§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
The subject of debate today is "Industrial relations in the newspaper industry". I think that it points to the wisdom of the Opposition that they have tabled this matter for debate on a Supply Day. This is emphasised by the spate of comment in the national Press and on radio and television since the announcement was made last week. I believe that the problems go much wider than simply those that beset Fleet Street, although I suspect that a large part of this debate will concentrate on Fleet Street's problems.
The loss of papers in 1976 amounted to 72 million and in 1977 to 101 million. In the first three months of this year we lost 32 million copies of national daily and Sunday papers, and in the first four months of this year we lost 60 million.
This is not only a problem for the capitalist Press, because I was interested to see that Tribune, in its special May Day edition, when it was hoping above all to be able to print large numbers of May Day greetings messages, found itself facing production difficulties. A notice in Tribune said:We very much regret that because of production difficulties at our printers, over which we have no control, this week's special May Day issue has to be severely curtailed.This is a fairly widespread problem and is obviously a serious situation for the country. It is a situation that was unheard of a few years ago. It has always been one of the acceptable facts of British life that the papers were there on the breakfast table and that one could always rely on getting the paper of one's choice early in the morning. It is only in the last few years that people have come to realise that they now do not know 792 whether they will receive their paper. Therefore, it is right that the House should debate this subject today. I believe that it should be a considered debate and that we should try to reach the maximum degree of agreement in all parts of the House.
I begin by quoting something that the Leader of the House said in 1974 when he was Secretary of State for Employment. He said:I agree that disputes which lead to frequent and persistent stoppages in the newspaper industry have a special significance, in the sense that they touch upon the free flow of opinion. If such disputes were to persist in the way that some people forecast, they could drain away the life blood of democracy in this country."—[Official Report, 21st November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 1531.]That was said nearly four years ago, and the situation today is certainly a good deal more serious than it was then.
There is the whole question of the financial loss of those who work in the industry. There is a loss of the profits which could be put into new investment by management and companies and there is a loss of pay which could, in certain circumstances, have gone to the people who works in the industry. Secondly, there have been considerable losses for the wholesale and retail newsagents, commonly called the CTNs—confectionery, tobacco and newsagents. These have been going out of business, not entirely for these reasons but partly because of them, at the rate of about 200 a week. Their numbers in the past four to five years have fallen from around 34,000 to about 27,000.
The people who run those shops are important in our society. They open their shops at all hours of the day or night and they perform an extraordinarily useful service to the community. We must try in every way we can to help them run their businesses. They have made strong representations to me and, I have no doubt, to all hon. Members. There is an employment factor involved here, because if the CTNs go out of business at the present rate we shall be adding even further to our unemployment problems. That is something of which we must not lose sight.
There are also many implications for advertising. I have received a number of complaints over the past few days about the effect that the uncertainty over the 793 printing of newspapers has on the whole advertising industry. It is a lucky thing that at the moment the television companies are fairly full of advertising, otherwise, national newspapers would be suffering a great deal more than they are. The newspapers are suffering, and this in itself has a considerable effect on industry and commerce. If a company cannot plan an advertising campaign with the launching of a new product and be certain that the advertising will be available at the right time, this disrupts the selling of the new product and means that companies tend to go to the medium with which they can be certain of getting advertising space.
The position is even more damaging than that. People from overseas who have looked at this country and admired not only our free Press but the miraculous way in which we have distributed our newspapers over a long time see the present situation and regard it as symptomatic of our malaise. By inference, that damages the reputation of our country and its ability to compete. For all these reasons, it is right that we should debate this subject.
There is no shortage of analyses of the problems. Most of the problems are familiar. A leading trade unionist said to me this week "Fleet Street is in a mess because both sides have made it so. Bad management has been chiefly responsible, but the unions have lost control at national level and union leaders have been stripped of their authority." I put that statement to a leading manager in Fleet Street and he agreed with every word of it. This is not a situation in which we can say that there is a lack of analysis or diagnosis of the problem.
Is the present situation inevitable? Is it getting worse? Where will it end? I do not believe that the current position is inevitable. Other industries facing technological change are doing so without the trauma affecting Fleet Street. What is more—and we must be clear on this point—a lot of people are having to accept technological change who are a lot worse off and who have been offered much worse compensation than some of 'the Fleet Street printers.
I do not believe that it is inevitable that we should have got into this situation. Is the current position getting worse? I think that for the moment it is. It 794 is getting worse because, perhaps, management is at last starting to stand firm. Trade union leaders, trade unionists and Labour Members who know about this subject will know how important it is that when management has made a decision it should stick to it. I have had a good deal of evidence this week from trade union leaders to the effect that nothing has undermined their position so much as managers saying that they will do one thing and, 24 or 48 hours later, when they were frightened about losing circulation to some other newspaper, changing their mind and undercutting the position which the union leadership was trying to take in support of management.
When I say that the situation is getting worse and that we are losing a larger number of papers because management is starting to stand firm, I must make another point. One of the circumstances of union ill discipline has been the changing pattern of newspaper ownership. About 20 years ago newspapers were small companies run by private individuals, and even if a publicly owned company was involved it was usually narrowly based on newspapers and treated by the newspaper proprietors as a private company. Now, individual companies have been steadily eliminated. Kemsley, Cadbury, Aitken and Astor have gone and, instead, newspapers are small parts of large, in some cases multinational, companies. There are Trafalgar House, Atlantic Richfield, the Thomson Organisation, Reeds, Pearson and so on.
Because of the nature of control and because of the wealth of the parent companies, the top boards are not concerned so much either about ownership of newspapers or about the losses that standing up to strikes would involve for them. This will have the effect—it is already having such an effect—of more companies having the financial muscle to resist claims. The most obvious examples of this are The Observer and the Daily Express, where neither David Astor nor Max Aitken had the money to face strikes in the way that perhaps the present management is starting to do. This is an example of where union intransigence has brought its own reaction in terms of more powerful proprietors. Whether this is in the long-term interests of the Press is open to dispute. Whatever might be said about individual 795 proprietors, they knew all about the freedom of the Press. We shall have to wait and see whether the present proprietors know quite so much.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I accept entirely what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I find it absolutely fascinating that he should develop this vital point of view. Would he not agree that one of the central problems is the fact that in the Fleet Street papers a great number of casuals are employed? The question of casual employment has always bedevilled every industry and has led to serious problems. The people who really want to solve the difficulties in Fleet Street should be thinking seriously about how to get away from casual employment in the industry.
§ Mr. Prior
This is obviously an important point. The casuals are very much part of the Sunday newspaper scene. They are people who have earned a pretty good screw during the week and want to pick up an extra £50 on a Saturday night by working for the Sundays. This is a general point, too. One of the things that has happened is that people no longer have a loyalty towards their papers. As a result, regrettably, the sort of situation to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has referred tends to occur.
I draw the attention of the House to an extract from an excellent publication entitled "Programme for Action" which deals with the report of a body on which management and union leaders sit. There was full agreement on this report. Referring to the future of the industry and the programme's package, it says:To adopt this package is not therefore to accept the soft option. But rejection of it would result in titles continuing to fail as newspaper economies forced them out of business. The inevitable consequences would be compulsory redundancy with little or no advance warning to workers and unions. No Government aid would be available to workers and unions. New forms of printed communications utilising the new technology, if necessary, printed abroad, could compete more and more successfully with a diminishing range of British national newspapers.That is the view of the joint standing committee for the national newspaper industry, which met to consider this problem.
796 What advice and help should the House give? We all have a deep interest in the maintenance of a competitive free Press, giving a wide choice in political attitudes, analysis of the state of the nation, highbrow or lowbrow, sport or entertainment—the whole gamut. We have a deep interest in all of that. Certainly this "Programme for Action," drawn up by the joint standing committee, points the way to the solution. I believe that a renewed effort should be made to gain its acceptance. Perhaps an attitude survey of shop-floor reaction, sponsored by management and unions, could show how better to get the message across.
I want to look at the management side for a minute. I believe that the management of newspapers has been subject to less influence in industrial relations than perhaps the editorial columns have exerted on nearly every other interest in the country. I cannot help thinking to myself sometimes that, if only the management of the newspapers had subjected themselves to such editorial advice as we have been subjected to in the House or industry generally has been subjected to on various matters, they might not be in quite the mess that they are.
There are one or two things that one can say. I believe that there is not enough involvement and participation at shop-floor level. There must be more down-the-line personnel involvement. It seems to me that too often when something goes wrong it is to the top man that people go, whereas in industry that sort of thing would not happen. There would be much more managerial content the whole way down the managerial line. There is nothing more damaging in industrial relations—I suppose that we all learn this the hard way—than strong words which are followed by weak action or sometimes by no action at all. That is a lesson that needs to be learnt by management too.
On the union side—
§ Mr. Prior
Is not the hon. Gentleman going to take part in the debate? If he is, he had better make his own speech.
Union leaders must reassert their undoubted authority. They must use their 797 strength, and, if necessary, they must get together in order to do so. They cannot go on saying, as I think they are inclined to do at present, "We are so fed up with Fleet Street that we're washing our hands of what happens there", because it is far too important. What happens in Fleet Street is vital nationally. Therefore, they must take a personal interest in what happens.
I believe that union leaders have adopted a responsible attitude. I do not want to praise them, because if I did so I should do them no good. I think that they have adopted a responsible attitude, but I hope that they will exert all their pressures to make certain that they can achieve the necessary discipline. In this respect, what is absolutely vital is a proper disputes procedure. The disputes procedure laid down on pages 28 and 29 of the "Programme for Action" seems to me vital. It is a first-class document, one which should be followed.
We cannot afford the constant disruptions. I think it is true to say that there has not been an official dispute in Fleet Street for some while. All the disputes have been unofficial.
Next, I want to say a word to the workers and to quote to them words which were said to me the other day: "Unless there is an industry, there is nothing to fight about. If they go as they are at the moment, there will not be anything to fight about."
The vast majority of printers, as we all know them—we in this House probably know them better than most other people do—are decent people. What we see is the influence of the few being allowed to sway the many. It is not an unusual state of affairs where management has been weak. Those weaknesses can be exploited. There is no point in talking about holding pistols to the heads of these people or anything of that nature.
I have tried to analyse the various problems dispassionately. I hope that a message can go out from the House today that we do not like what is going on. We recognise how damaging it is from the point of view of the industry, those who work in it and a free Press. We expect to see authority restored and common sense prevail. We are telling the industry, all sections of it, to get round the table again and sort it out, and sort it out quickly.
798 I turn to another matter, which is much more a question for the provincial and magazine Press than for Fleet Street, but is also a matter of considerable concern. I refer to the whole question of the National Union of Journalists and the control it tries to exercise or might try to exercise were it to have a closed shop. I should like to put the matter in this way. One understands the problems of young journalists. One sees that in a number of provincial papers they have been badly paid. They see the much greater pay and much greater strength that perhaps the linotype operators have gathered for themselves, and they say to themselves "If they can do that as a result of a strong union, why can't we have the same?"
There is no doubt that in many respects a number of journalists in a number of newspapers have been badly paid, and they look to the closed shop as a means of giving them the collective strength that they feel they otherwise lack. I understand that, but there are too many examples now where a closed shop certainly could be used, and would be used, as a means of controlling what was published. In this respect I should like to quote from a leading article in The Times some months ago:Rigid application of the closed shop in journalism creates an unacceptable risk of restraint upon liberty. Effective control of what is or is not printed would be put in the hands of a single politically active organisation. The NUJ would be able to decide who wrote for the press and to require its members to write in a particular way on pain of effective exclusion from their trade. The union's present leaders may be fully determined never to exploit the powers that a closed shop would give them. But the political currents in the union are strong and it is impossible to be certain that the same will always be true.That is why we on the Conservative Benches have stated that any Press charter should be firm about the right to join or not to join a union. What has happened to the Press charter? When does the Secretary of State expect to be able to bring a charter before the House?
I now have a further suggestions to make to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have recently stated—at any rate, they have come out in the Press—the conditions for union membership agreements within certain Civil Service unions. I do not like closed shops, but if one is to have a closed shop the union membership agreement must be drawn in 799 a certain way to give freedom to individuals to decide whether they will pay union dues, pay to a charity or use some other means of paying.
It seems to me that the conditions that the Government are laying down for union membership agreements for their own employees in the Civil Service are perfectly reasonable and suitable for the conditions of a union membership agreement, for example, in the newspaper industry, because it would give that freedom for the individual journalist to decide whether he wished to join a union. If he did not wish to join, he would not be subject to the pressures of discipline which the union might try to exert if he was writing material with which it disagreed.
I believe, therefore, that the Government have another way out of this situation now, not just through the Press charter but through stating that they would support union membership agreements with the sorts of provision that they have discussed themselves and which we have been talking about for some time. That is another thing on which I believe that the Govenment should now give a lead.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me the source of the document from which he was quoting a few minutes ago?
§ Mr. Walker
I am sorry, but perhaps I misled the right hon. Gentleman. A few minutes ago he quoted someone about closed shops in journalism. I did not catch the source of the document.
§ Mr. Prior
I quoted a leader from The Times of some months ago.
I turn now from the question of preserving the freedom of the Press, which means a good deal more than ensuring that all journalists have access to the Press. I am sure that no one in this House would defend any newspaper which refused to publish a letter from one of its readers purely on the ground that it objected to his or her political or union affiliation. This would rightly be condemned 800 as a most dangerous form of censorship. As recently as 4th May, however, the editor of the Evening Standard found that he was unable to publish a drawing which a reader had submitted with a letter.
The editor was unable to publish the drawing because the Press and process workers' union, SLADE, refused to handle the picture. A joint SLADENGA directive forbids the processing of work other than that done by a trade union member. When the unions demanded to know whether the reader was a member of a union, the editor refused to answer. In that evening's edition he restated his paper's policy that the editorial columns should be kept open to any contributor irrespective of union or political affiliations.
Of course, the editor of the Evening Standard must surely be right. I defy anyone in this House, including those on the Government Benches, to say to the contrary. Yet, as a result of action by the members of SLADE, no picture appeared. If hon. Members are interested, I point out that on page 28 of that edition of the Evening Standard there is a blank space. The caption says:Wonderful Wapping—but this is a wasteland.Perhaps it is as well that the picture was not in. But there is a blank space where it should have been.
SLADE members there demonstrated their ability and determination to censor a newspaper, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) has given me details of a circular send round by the NGA and the NUJ combined stating that members of those unions should not permit the publication of certain material which had racialist overtones.
I hold no more brief than they would for anyone who sought to stir up racialism in Britain, but I would defend to the last the right of a newspaper to print that material if that was what the editor wished to do. It is not for any part of the trade union movement, whether it be the NUJ, SLADE or whatever, to start saying what can or cannot be printed.
Other activities of SLADE have also—
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to 801 comment upon the employer or manufacturer who instructs his agency not to take space in a paper because he identifies that paper with a certain political view to which he or the person buying the space objects? Would the right hon. Gentleman condemn him equally in such a case concerning, for example, Tribune or Labour Weekly, in which certain agencies refuse to take space because they are political papers? Or does the right hon. Gentleman think that these freedoms should extend right across the board?
§ Mr. Prior
That is a totally separate case in every possible way. It bears no relation to the point I was making. In the case that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, presumably a commercial consideration is involved. It is an advertisement, and an advertiser has the right to decide in which papers he will advertise. There is no connection there at all. What I object to very strongly is the fact that the NUJ and the NGA or SLADE are in a position to say what should or should not be printed in a newspaper, and I believe that that is entirely a wrong use of union power and one that we should bring out into the open and resist to the last breath.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman says "Like the proprietors", but there is a wide variety of publications throughout the country. There is plenty of scope in the provincial Press and in the national Press for a wide variety of views to be expressed, and anyone who does not believe that does not know what goes on in journalism.
Other activities of SLADE have also given rise to considerable concern to many people in this House, in the country and throughout the trade union movement. Last June, we initiated a debate on the recruiting methods and techniques of SLADE because of this widespread concern. In particular we were concerned at SLADE's failure to consult workers when it wished to recruit and its frequent demands not only for recognition by the employer but for a closed shop. These activities were particularly serious in various art work studios and advertising agencies.
During that debate, the Minister of State expressed the hope that consultations 802 between representatives of the employers and SLADE, held through the good offices of the TUC printing industries committee, would help to improve matters, although only last month he stated, in reply to a Question that I put to him,I very much regret that as yet as I have seen little evidence that the situation has significantly changed."—[[Official Report, 3rd April 1978; Vol. 947, c. 51.]I gather that further talks are planned, but our information is that SLADE's attitude has not changed all that much.
As a recent article in The Sunday Times by Eric Jacobs showed, several thousand people have effectively been coerced into membership of the SLADE Art Union. Why should these people now not be able to leave the union if they so wish, free from the threat of blacking or the secondary boycott? Indeed, at this moment members of the SLADE Art Union are demonstrating outside the SLADE annual delegate conference at Scarborough because, although the SAU comprises about one-third of the total SLADE membership, its members are not represented at conference. They are also worried that members of the SAU will not be able to vote in any ballot of SLADE members on the proposed merger between SLADE and the NUJ.
It is no wonder that they are worried. On the one hand, SLADE said that it would abide by the letter and spirit of the recent High Court judgment in which temporary injunctions were imposed on it, yet, on the other hand, its general secretary says that members of the Art Union are now in limbo. It is hardly surprising that the banners at Scarborough today say "Shame on SLADE" and refer to members of the Art Union as second-class citizens.
SLADE's attitude and behaviour has been quite inexcusable. It is not as if the union was driven to such extremes by an unreasonable approach on the part of the employers—not that the tactics used by SLADE could ever be justified in any circumstances. But, in an effort to reach a joint understanding, the employers are willing to recognise as appropriate unions any one of four unions, including SLADE. They are happy that representatives of the unions concerned should meet and put their point of view to their 803 employees, and they are ready to recognise a union for bargaining purposes where a substantial proportion of employees or groups of employees belong to one of those unions.
In return, all that is asked by the employers is that the individual employee has the right to choose whether to join a union, free from the threat of blacking or secondary boycott. I cannot believe that anyone in this House can take a different view from that. All this seems to me to be very fair and reasonable behaviour, and I am certain that that is the view that we all ought to take.
I suspect that that is the view with which many people in the trade union movement—in fact, nearly all the trade union movement—would agree, and even, perhaps, the majority of the NGA and SLADE as well. I hope that in any further talks on the principles involved a sensible accommodation can be reached. I very hope also that both SLADE and the NGA will be ready to renegotiate on the issue of the pre-entry closed shop when the new agreements are negotiated with employers this summer.
I hope that the message of this House today to Fleet Street will be to accept the "Programme for Action" and make it work. I hope that the message to the NUJ will be that the privilege of a free Press is of greater importance than a press-ganged union membership. I hope that the message to SLADE-NGA will be to stop bringing the whole of the trade union movement into disrepute. The greater the degree of unanimity we show, the more likely we are to succeed. A free Press and democracy go hand in hand. That is a stand that this House has to take.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
The newspaper industry has been responsible for the publication of a good deal of criticism of industrial relations in other sectors of the country. In fact, editorials on this subject are frequently excellent examples of the pan calling the kettle sooty-bottomed. It is therefore a little ironic that the Opposition have sought, in a Supply Day debate, to bring forward a subject that reflects adversely on industrial relations in newspapers.
804 Nevertheless, having said that, I very much appreciate the spirit in which the subject has been introduced by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I agreed with a number of things that he said. Even where I disagreed with him, I felt that he introduced the matter in a constructive way, which can lead to a debate on the issue, which can serve a useful purpose.
The problems of industrial relations in the newspaper industry at this time are the more critical because they coincide with a period when the newspaper industry is facing one of the most significant periods of change in the history of printing. There may be a relationship between the two. It may be that the new technology of computerised photocomposition in place of the old hot-metal methods is the cause of part of the industrial relations problems.
It is not surprising that a change of this magnitude should give rise to differences between management and unions. But a newspaper industry, which thrives on reporting the conflicts and challenges in our society, must itself meet the challenge of new print technology and resolve the conflict that this produces in a way that does not bring the presses of this country to a halt.
The joint standing committee which emerged from talks between unions and management in the first half of 1976 published the proposals, designed to accommodate the introduction of this new technology, under the heading of the publication "Programme for Action"—the document to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
A great many of the recommendations of the ACAS report were embodied in the "Programme for Action". These proposals were commended by the printing unions but were rejected by their members in a ballot in the spring of 1977. I believe that the union leaders are the people best qualified to judge the reasons for this rejection by their membership, to reflect those reasons in further negotiations with management and proprietors on this issue, and to convey to their own membership the scope, the opportunities and the limitations which they believe that the new technology will bring to employment in the Press.
805 In the absence of agreement on new national machinery to deal more effectively with these issues, many newspaper publishers are now undertaking negotiations with trade unions to bring about the advance of the introduction of the new technology. The Mirror Group is probably the one which has made the most progress towards this goal, but even there it would seem that several problems still remain to be ironed out. Most other Fleet Street managements are already engaged in discussions of a similar kind, although some plans are more ambitious than others.
I believe that what has to be recognised is that unless these changes are introduced it is highly unlikely that the industry will be able to maintain reasonable employment levels, and the future of Fleet Street itself, with its present range of titles, will be at risk over this problem. There is no immutable law which requires national newspapers any longer to be printed in London. This is an issue, therefore, which is of concern not only to proprietors, to editors and to those who work in the industry, but rightly also—as the right hon. Gentleman said—to those who live by retailing newspapers. It is an issue that should properly concern this House and all who are concerned with the dissemination of news and opinion through the medium of the Press.
Any publicity that we give to disputes in Britain tends to sustain the myth of the "British disease". It is worth recollecting, therefore, just for a moment, that Press industrial relations problems are not by any means unique to this country. Recent major disputes in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Denmark have been very much rooted in exactly these problems in this kind of area. These countries have experienced difficulties in the introduction of new technology in the Press.
In West Germany, union resistance to certain employer proposals for the introduction of new technological developments led to an almost total shut-down of German presses during the middle of March, when the negotiations had broken down, and the employers instigated a lockout in retaliation for some selective strike action which took place at that time.
Within the last 12 months Denmark has also seen a major stoppage over 806 new technology and changed manpower requirements in the Press. It is relevant to point out, particularly in view of some things that have been said recently in industrial relations debates in the House, that in Denmark legal sanctions were used against those who took part in strike action in the Danish Press, and that this seems to have exacerbated the ill-feeling of the dispute to the point where it actually spilled over into violence.
For a long time in this country the number of days lost due to disputes in the newspaper industry compared very favourably indeed with the position in other industries. Statistics published by my Department for the number of days lost due to industrial disputes in the industry in 1976 show that the figure is below the average for all manufacturing industries. The statistics for the previous five years, which were published in the ACAS report, show that in most years the figures for the national newspaper industry were better than those for the paper, printing and publishing industries as a whole. Indeed, in some years the national newspaper industry had a lower figure for the number of days lost due to strikes than did the provincial newspapers.
Having said that, I nevertheless accept very much of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the nature of disputes in the newspaper industry at present. It is the case that in the early part of this year many more copies had been lost than previously. Judged by that criterion, industrial relations in the Press have worsened. I do not contend that the figures that we publish for days lost due to industrial disputes are necessarily the best criteria of the damage that is done in this industry as a result of bad industrial relations and forms of dispute.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that point. I hope that he will emphasise the fact that when one has a situation in which a handful of 10 or 20 men can stop a whole newspaper, or half an edition of a newspaper, the number of copies lost are overwhelmingly the indicator by which one has to judge the prosperity or prospects of the industry.
§ Mr. Booth
I fully accept that point. If it will help the House I shall develop it just a little. Our figures for days lost 807 at an establishment do not include the total days lost as a result of a dispute. That is particularly relevant in this industry. The printing process is such that a stoppage by even a few workers can result in a total loss of production. Therefore, I am at one with the hon. Gentleman in his contention that if we are to judge the effects of disputes in relation to the ability of the industry to perform its task, we must look at the losses of production which result, or the failure to deliver newspapers, possibly more than we look at the number of hours or days lost in actual dispute.
The reference to figures of publications lost, of more than 50 million, may not tally exactly with the various counts made, but that is not of importance. What is of importance, if we accept this way of judging it, is that there has been a massive loss of tens of millions of copies in the early part of this year. That is a serious matter.
Having said that, we must look more closely at the reasons for some disputes which are peculiar to Fleet Street. In doing so I feel obliged to say that many of the roots of Fleet Street's problems lie in the policy of management, or the absence of management policy, in industrial relations. Those managers who concede to unofficial demands things that they denied to official union representatives only a few days previously do nothing but undermine the authority of unions in an area where the authority of unions is of considerable importance if we are to have industrial peace.
Most disputes—in fact, almost all disputes—which have taken place in Fleet Street this year have been unofficial disputes. By definition, they are disputes that have been caused as a result of a failure to use procedures for the resolution of the problems that have arisen.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what is the present situation regarding efforts being made to resolve the dispute at The Observer, which clearly has important implications? Can he say whether any approaches have been made to the Department or to ACAS to assist in that dispute. Can he say what efforts are being made to resolve it?
§ Mr. Booth
I shall try to get the very latest information so that it can be given by my hon. Friend when winding up the debate. The matter is not being dealt with directly by my Department, but ACAS is very interested in finding ways of solving problems in the industry. Of course, as a result of its report, it has a special concern to see how far its recommendations, if observed, would prevent the occurrence of a dispute such as that on The Observer.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the NGA, despite some of the harsh words said previously, is establishing its national council meeting tomorrow afternoon in Bedford to try to resolve some of the matters, including one of the sticking points with regard to The Observer, namely, the management's disciplining of the 25 men who went on unofficial action last Saturday night?
§ Mr. Booth
I understand that that is the case, but I do not want to be drawn into commenting too closely on this matter. I appreciate some of the problems that relate to a call upon unions to discipline members, such as that which exists in Fleet Street. I hope that as a result of the meeting to which my hon. Friend referred it will be possible to resolve the matter. But it needs some understanding and appreciation on both sides that what can be done by way of disciplining members now in Fleet Street may be something very much more limited than that which would be possible had the recommendations of ACAS, to which leaders of the unions and management subscribe, been implemented.
In fact, ACAS suggested that a model national procedure agreement might be worked out which could be adopted for use by the individual houses. The ACAS report on the national newspaper industry drew attention to the highly fragmented nature of collective bargaining in Fleet Street. It said that while negotiations on basic pay do take place at national level, very large scope was left for negotiations at house and departmental level between managements and individual chapels on a whole range of issues. The report noted that changes are necessary in areas of manning, demarcation, differentials and 809 related matters. One of the most significant conclusions contained in the ACAS report was that which said:Sectionalism has produced agreements that bear no strict relationship to each other, narrowly based productivity bargains, a high disputes potential, and short-term industrial relations policies by management".That is a very damning indictment of an industrial relations situation. A number of recommendations made by ACAS, in fact, the majority, have been endorsed by the Royal Commission on the Press. I believe that there is now an absolute need for unions and management in the newspaper industry to make a fresh effort to bring about the implementation of those recommendations. We have to acknowledge that, so far, little has been done to bring about that implementation. To some extent the slow progress, or the lack of progress, is a measure of the complexity of the problems facing the industry. I think that I would be running away from a fair judgment if I did not also say that it reflects a reluctance on the part of some managements and union members to abandon old methods which have possibly prevailed in the industry for too long.
The recent decision of The Sun to leave the NPA is an illustration of the different approaches taken by individual managements within Fleet Street. Wide variations between product and market quite understandably lead to different newspapers attaching different priorities in those negotiations on the parts of the ACAS report which should be first implemented. I think that the industry needs a strong and effective management organisation which can give a clear management view on some of the major issues raised by the Royal Commission in its endorsement of the ACAS report.
I go along with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft in hoping that the unions will consider the ACAS recommendations very carefully indeed. I recognise that without an increase in effective communications between union officials at all levels and their memberships it is quite improbable that industrial relations in the industry can ever be put on a secure footing. I know that the national leadership of the printing unions accepts the need for some kind of positive action. I believe that it must play a major part in a fresh attempt to bring about that 810 which it has already agreed is desirable. I therefore join in an appeal to unions and management to accept the urgent need to examine how far those recommendations can be implemented.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft asked some questions relating to the Press charter. He pointed out quite fairly that this is a matter possibly of more relevance to industrial relations problems of the provincial Press rather than Fleet Street. Nevertheless, I think that this is a very important issue. It is so important that after my initial talks with Lord Pearce and others arrangements were made for a whole series of meetings conducted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. They have been aimed at producing the widest possible area of acceptance of the broad aim which I think this House sought to bring about when it laid upon me the obligation to produce a Press charter, if it could not be done by agreement within the industry.
As a result of the series of discussions and meetings, I think that I shall serve the House best if I can reduce to the minimum the number of issues in the charter on which I shall have to place a decision before the House, and expand to the maximum those sectors of the charter which reflect agreement within the industry. Therefore, I thought that it would be welcome to the House if I indicated to some extent the area in which agreement had been reached.
First, all the parties to the charter are prepared to declare their support for the freedom of the Press to collect and publish information and to publish comment and criticism, and they accept that it is their duty to defend that freedom as an essential part of a democratic society. They agree that the charter should apply within the United Kingdom to all newspapers, periodicals and news agencies.
We have got a considerable measure of agreement on the need to avoid improper pressures being placed upon editors. In fact, the parties to the charter have pledged themselves to abstain from the exercise of any improper pressure and to resist such improper pressures from any quarter, external or internal.
Under the same heading, they have agreed that any action or threat, of whatever kind, from whatever quarter, which 811 is calculated to induce an editor to distort news, comment or criticism, or, contrary to his or her judgment, to publish, suppress or modify news, comment or criticism, shall be deemed, ipso facto, to be an improper measure.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson
Will my right hon. Friend say whether that includes improper pressures coming from those purchasers of newspaper space who make it a condition of their purchase that newspapers follow a particular line, and those buyers of space who exclude certain newspapers from their purchases because of the views held by particular newspapers?
§ Mr. Booth
The agreement is an agreement to resist improper pressure from any source, but those who are bound by the agreement are only the signatories to the agreement. Those who hire newspaper space are not necessarily parties to the Press charter.
Among the further issues agreed on this question of improper pressure is that the editor or, in appropriate cases, the editor-in-chief, shall accept and be accorded final responsibility for the content of his publication. Employers of editors shall recognise that responsibility and the independence of editorial judgment. The editor shall not, therefore, normally be subject to ad hoc interference from his employers but may be required by them to observe basic editorial policy and the practice that has been agreed between him and them.
In the difficult area of union membership agreements, it has been agreed that union membership agreements shall not require editors of news agencies to become or remain a member of any trade union or association, and shall not require a newspaper editor to become or remain a member of any trade union or association.
In the area of access to the Press, which I know is a matter of particular concern to many hon. Members, it has been agreed that access to the Press shall be free, and any person shall have a right to submit material for publication. The editor shall have the right to commission material from any contributor.
I think that this represents a fair measure of progress.
§ Mr. Booth
I think that the area that we were discussing in the talks was one of the written word. Certainly the hon. Member has raised a very interesting question and I shall have to consider it rather carefully. I accept the importance of it. However, it is not a question to which I should give an immediate off-the-cuff reaction.
What I wish to urge the House to do is to appreciate that we have made considerable progress towards agreement. We have not yet covered all the areas that we are required to cover by the 1974 Act, but I believe that it is well worth while to spend the time necessary to get that broadest possible measure of agreement. I think that any legal enforcement of disagreed provisions would be a very poor alternative to getting the broad agreement of all the parties to the charter.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this charter, even were it to see the light of day—and that depends upon Liberal support, which it will not get—will be a voluntary charter without the sanction of law and will not, therefore, be worth the paper upon which it is written?
§ Mr. Booth
No. Whether there is total agreement to the charter or whether it is a combination of agreed provisions and those that I shall propose as the best possible cover in an area in which one cannot obtain agreement, the charter will have a certain legal standing. There will be three types of legal action in which reference can be made to the charter. It will be appropriate to consideration of unfair dismissal cases. I think that it will be appropriate in some cases of breach of contract. It could be appropriate in some cases of a union member bringing an action against his own union for, say, exclusion from membership.
The precise legal purpose of the charter is defined in the 1974 Act. But I urge that we should not be concerned about only the precise legal purpose. I am suggesting that we should be concerned, as Members of the House of Commons, about the value of a charter, which has the agreement of all signatory parties, in resolving the problem which caused the 813 House to insert those provisions in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
I very much regret that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft should again assert the importance of giving an absolute right not to belong to a trade union, in this context or in any wider context. I do not believe that that was the purpose of the Act. My view appears to have been shared by the Royal Commission on the Press when it considered that. The purpose of the Act was quite clearly to define the way in which it would be legal and proper to form membership agreements in particular circumstances and to consider what safeguards should attach to them.
I think that it behoves the right hon. Gentleman, if he really believes that we should have some legislative provision to establish an absolute right not to belong—to cut across the right of employer and union to form a union membership agreement—to enunciate the principle on which that can be based. If he is holding that it is right to do that in the case of the Press because a union membership agreement—in his view, not in mine—may lead to the stopping of the flow or dissemination of information, one cannot stop at journalists and editors in withholding that right. Printers also can stop the flow of information. Those who drive lorries carrying newspapers can also stop the flow of information. If that is the contention, one would have to put a legal bar or impediment in the way of the formation of union membership agreements over a much wider area.
I would also pose the question how it could be enforced in any case, and who would have to be locked up if someone proceeded to make an agreement in breach of that or continued to operate an agreement, as was done through the period of the Industrial Relations Act 1971.
Therefore, I believe that to raise this issue now does not help to achieve the main purpose of the House which caused the House to embody the Press charter requirement in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
§ Mr. Prior
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to comment on a union membership agreement which has written into it the sort of safeguards which it is proposed to write into the Civil Service union 814 membership agreement, because that would go a very long way to giving the protection which the individual journalist requires?
§ Mr. Booth
I am prepared to comment on that, but, by way of an additional comment, I should be interested to know whether the right hon. Gentleman approves of those conditions for union membership agreements for civil servants. That is the area for which they are designed, but he has not given the House that information.
The considerations that the Government have given to what would be appropriate conditions for union membership agreements for civil servants are in line with the spirit and intention of the House, which was that the conditions that attach to union membership agreements, apart from the narrow area covered within legislation, should be worked out between the employer and the unions concerned.
As regards the Civil Service, the Government stand in the role of the employer. Therefore, it is proper that the Government should, where there is a call made upon them by the civil servants' unions for union membership agreements, closed shop arrangements, to propose the safeguards that they think proper in the circumstances and to negotiate them with the unions concerned.
§ Mr. Prior
I quote from a handout that I issued last Friday, in which it is stated:We welcome this apparent concern of the Government's for the rights of individual employees. But why the double standards—why should the Government wish to afford this kind of protection solely to its own employees? Surely it is now time for the Government to act by taking the necessary step to provide adequate safeguards for all employees affected by closed shop agreements.
§ Mr. Booth
If I were feeling sensitive, I should resent the phrase "apparent concern". The Government's concern for the individual rights of those they employ is real and continuing. We expect employers, whether they be Ministers in Government, managements of newspapers, those who run nationalised industries or those who run great private concerns, to be concerned for the individual rights and position of those they employ. There is no duality of standard. What we are doing is what we expect and encourage others to do. As there is no duality of standard, we shall not insist on or seek to propose 815 legislation that for one section of the newspaper industry would deny the right of employers and unions to reach agreements where we believe that it is right that they should reach agreements in a whole other wide area of employment.
The issue of the Press charter is important and has industrial relations consequences, mainly in the provincial newspapers. However, I urge that the issue should not hold up the appeal that I and the right hon. Gentleman have jointly addressed to management and unions in the newspaper industry, again to try to implement the broad recommendations of ACAS, which we both believe will make a considerable contribution to the health, well-being and maintenance of an important industry.
When we think of the importance and the nature of the industry's product, the newspaper, the preparation of the day's news, there can be very few items that are more perishable. The day's news is prepared for printing in a newspaper. If the day's production is lost, it can never be regained. If it is produced and delivered on time, the printed word serves a vital function in the democratic process. If production is a day late, the sheet of paper on which the skill of journalists and printers has been lavished becomes inferior to a blank sheet of paper used for wrapping up fish and chips. Even if there were no other justification, that alone would warrant a much higher priority being given in the newspaper industry to the building of procedures for the determination of terms and conditions, for the avoidance of disputes, for the preservation of the service that the Press can uniquely perform, and for the maintenance of a sound livelihood for all those who work in it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I must declare an interest as a trustee of the Guardian and Manchester Evening News. I must make it clear that trustees receive no pay or profit. They play no part in either the editorial or general day-to-day management of the paper.
There has been so far a considerable measure of agreement in the debate, which I welcome. That is not surprising because the present problems of Fleet 816 Street, whatever the past may have shown, are well known and may be fairly clearly defined. The Secretary of State has given a clear warning to the disruptive elements in Fleet Street of what is the inevitable result if they continue with present practices.
The debate is really about industrial relations. Although the charter has featured in the debate, I do not intend to devote a great deal of time to it. However, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying something about it. There is considerable concern about the length of time that it is taking to produce the charter. That adds to the general uncertainty of the industry. We know that conversations have been taking place, and it was useful for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us his view of how far they have proceeded. In so far as they have made progress, the progress seems to be in the right direction.
It is good to know that freedom of the Press has been agreed upon. Surely that is the absolute minimum that could be expected. It may be that that does not carry us very much further forward.
Although the right hon. Gentleman's statement will have to be studied more carefully, I noticed that it contained certain weasel words such as "normal", which is always rather alarming. Those of us who are opposed to the closed shop have always had reservations about the effectiveness of any charter. When the charter is completed, it will have to be most carefully examined by the House. As has been said from the Conservative Benches, one of the most important points is what if any sanction it will have behind it.
In the course of the debate advertisers have been mentioned. If they are to be discussed, we had better have some evidence that advertisers nowadays attempt to influence editorial policy. Certainly they have the right to choose in which newspapers they will advertise. If there are any instances of advertisers attempting to write leading articles, so to speak, it would be a good thing if we knew of them.
I do not intend to go further into the charter. It will have to be closely examined. However, I hope that the Government will give us some indication of their idea of timing. I agree with the 817 right hon. Gentleman that there is everything to be said for conducting conversations at a pace that will give us some chance of reaching agreement. However, the years pass and the election is advancing, in spite of the Liberal Party, perhaps. It would be good if some indication could be given that the Government consider the charter as something that will not appear in the present Parliament.
I turn to industrial relations in the Press. Of course, the Press is not one industry but a great many. Fleet Street is only one part of it. The importance of the national Press, though great, is declining. It is declining partly through its own fault, partly because of the improvement in much of the local Press, and partly because of the competition of television and radio.
Most of the present trouble arises in Fleet Street. Most of the local Press is free from trouble and maintains a high standard. I read my local Press from cover to cover. I should do so even if I were not the local Member of Parliament. In Orkney and Shetland we now have local radio, which is making a considerable impact. The local Press is now, to my mind, better written and much better printed than most of the national Press. The early editions of the national Press that are received in my constituency frequently appear to be printed in a different language. The local Press gives a great deal of genuine and important news.
The operations within the Press are really different industries. There may come a time—I am not suggesting that it will be immediate—when printing and production are hived off from the editorial function. They might be carried on by co-operatives of printers. However, no one can be in any doubt about the gravity of the position in Fleet Street. The national Press has frequently cried "wolf". The whole point of the parable about the wolf is that the wolf did eventually come.
That may yet happen in Fleet Street, as the Minister and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) realise. The national Press suffers from a legacy of poor management by some of the old Press barons and a policy of appeasement. I wholly agree with the Minister that the business of the trade unions has 818 often been made much more difficult by management suddenly giving way after having told the official union representatives that it intended to stand firm. This is not the way to conduct good industrial relations.
The national Press has a long history of restrictive practices, excessive pay, and overmanning which has not made it easy to obtain good management and efficient working. However, management, though no doubt it has black spots, has greatly improved and those days are to some extent over. The present main danger lies in sudden strikes and breaches of agreements by often very small numbers within the industry and nearly always confined to Fleet Street. It is not generally a conflict between management and the trade union secretaries or leaders. As the Minister has said, none of the recent trouble has been official, and it is not about grievances which the unions support.
It is, therefore, unfair to blame the union secretaries. These troubles are often a sign of the inability of the unions to control some of their members. It may be that the process of dealing with these grievances is too slow. It is noticeable that usually these troubles stop papers or create difficulties for papers for three or four or five days. The reason for that is often that it takes that amount of time before the union secretaries and union officials can get round to dealing with the matter of bringing some sense into the situation.
There are agreements between the managements and the unions for settling grievances. There are the recommendations of the joint standing committee. The trouble is that these are far too often disregarded. The result is the loss of 55 million to 60 million copies of newspapers this year alone. I agree with what has been said that it is not only the total stoppage of newspapers which is making it difficult for the industry. It is the constant friction, the trouble with getting printing runs completed and the day-to-day anxiety as to whether we are able to produce the full newspaper which is intended.
Why do the small groups of workers behave as they do? It is partly because of lack of respect for the undertakings in which they work and partly because of a lack of loyalty to institutions and to 819 agreements. I am afraid that this is becoming a feature of many aspects of British life. It is not confined to the printing industry, nor to journalism in general. As the editorial of The Times today points out, there is also the extraordinary internal structure of the industry. This makes it all too easy for small groups to disrupt production. As in so much of the British industry, there is the incredible complication of wage rates and agreements and the number of chapels and unions involved. These complications make it difficult to negotiate and to run a sensible and fair operation.
There is the major issue of the change to new technology. Certain parts of the industry have successfully changed over, if not to the whole of the new technology, then to some of it. I do not speak for The Guardian, nor do I speak about The Guardian, but we have been fairly free from troubles. Therefore, it is not true that the industry is making no progress towards introducing new technology, because it is. However, progress is not fast enough. In the case of one newspaper there is £3 million worth of new investment which has never been used. It is not much use calling upon British industry to invest if, when the investment is put in, it is not used.
I sympathise with workers who are threatened with redundancy owing to changes in method, but some of the trouble has arisen from restrictive practices and huge wages. There are agreements by union leaders about the introduction of the new machinery and methods and there are redundancy payments. The difficulties will not be made easier by a Luddite attitude towards the introduction of this machinery. The only hope for the industry is that these agreements will be honoured.
There are one or two minor contributory factors. Some of the unions do not have their headquarters in London and are not primarily concerned with the London operations. That cuts both ways. It often means, however, that there is delay in the process of dealing with disputes.
I was once a director of The Guardian and had some responsibility for a paper. I found that for an industry which is 820 meant to be concerned with communications, the newspaper industry is extremely bad at communicating within itself. It has already been said that newspapers lecture everyone else in the world on how they ought to behave whilst setting an extremely bad example. I mention an obvious example of this. Occasionally I used to lunch with Mr. Cecil King. He spent much of lunch declaiming against the iniquities of British industry and particularly its monstrous inefficiency, over-manning and restrictive practices. On one occasion he asked whether I would like to go round the Daily Mirror building. I said that I would. There we looked down on people reading novels while Mr. King finished his lunch. That was a prime example of the very things against which he had been declaiming.
What can be done? There have been warnings that some papers will close. These warnings may have an effect. I expect that The Observer will be published this Sunday, but it is a terrible reflection of the anarchy in the industry that such warnings have to be given. It is no good if the warnings have only a temporary effect. I am afraid that if the trouble continues The Observer may ultimately close. I think that the proprietors of that newspaper probably mean what they say.
Whatever may be done about the long-term structure of the industry and whatever view is taken of trade union power, it is essential in the short term that the unions should be fully supported in their efforts to achieve some sense, orderliness and respect for agreements. The Government must not only make it crystal clear, as they have done in the debate, that this is their view, but they must maintain their attitude that they will not encourage the belief that if individual papers get into trouble simply because of anarchy by small numbers of their workers, the public will somehow bail them out.
There is the belief at the back of many people's minds that the Government will now allow papers to go to the wall and that the taxpayer ultimately will pay. This is a disastrous belief which undermines the authority of the unions and management. I do not suggest that the Government are in the least responsible for this belief. However, they must continue to make it clear that they will not 821 bail out individual papers which have got into trouble simply because of internal wrecking by their own work people. The future lies in agreements between management and labour which will be respected.
It has already been said that the Newspaper Publishers Association has a part to play. I agree that it has. However, at the moment the NPA is not very effective in this area. It has other uses. We cannot in the short term place much reliance upon it. This is a matter that has to be dealt with by the management of the newspapers.
The unions have won great privileges and have a special position under the law. They can hardly continue to claim these privileges and this special position if they are to wash their hands of the constant disruption caused by their members. I do not suggest that this is a matter which should be dealt with in the debate, but it will become an issue which at some time or other has to be tackled. I suspect that one answer must be that unions should be not compelled, but allowed, to enter into binding agreements to which, if they are broken, the ordinary sanctions applied to other agreements should apply.
It is sad that all this is happening now because, as far as we are concerned, in some ways the outlook is better than it was. Advertising is picking up and many papers which were unprofitable have become profitable in recent years. It is vital that the industry should not cut its own throat by practices which are the fault of tiny groups of people within it at a time when, with a little good fortune, it will be able to stand firmer on its feet than it has done for many years.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
Like the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I must declare an interest, having been a member of the National Graphical Association for 34 years and representing that union in this House.
I hope that some of the common ground that has filtered through the three speeches that we have so far heard will continue throughout the rest of the debate.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss the problems of the newspaper industry—an industry whose well-being is fundamental 822 to our democracy. I hope that hon. Members in later speeches will resist the temptation to trivialise or to politicise the debate. It is all too easy, but not very realistic, to assign the roles of goodies and baddies. If we indulge in such simplifications, we shall miss the chance to identify and to explain those major areas of agreement which could be developed to maintain a viable and ever-expanding newspaper industry for the benefit of all.
I should like to mention three areas which I suspect go to the root of the present difficulties in Fleet Street. The first is the type of production. That point was commented upon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The second is clearly communications within the industry. The third, which perhaps has not been touched upon as much as it should have been, is fear of the new technology.
At the heart of the first problem is the type of production. Those who have worked on newspapers know full well the tensions which quickly creep into that kind of production line. For a few hours each night the production line runs flat out to produce the next day's papers. The work is done under pressure and tension and in the knowledge that if the production line stops, that edition is lost for good. Other industries can in the main make good their losses, whatever the reason for the stoppage, but not the newspaper industry. There is no sale for yesterday's newspaper.
The practice of industrial relations in such circumstances demands real leadership from both management and trade unions. Without such leadership, a tense situation becomes inflammable and a minor irritant becomes a major dispute.
I make one comment on those who both here and elsewhere say that newspaper editorials are prone to suggest advice about how industry generally can handle its problems, yet do not seem to be able to succeed in dealing with their own difficulties. Those who make such criticism do not understand the difference between the newspaper management and the editorial function. It is not unusual for those doing the creative work—the newspaper editorial people—to see and identify problems in society, to comment upon them, and to have their views published. But 823 newspaper management is a different game altogether.
I know from experience on the management side of the industry that there is a poor, but slowly improving, quality of competence. It is with such weaknesses, together with irresponsible elements in some union sectors, that the basis of many disputes begins. It is thus not so unusual for those writing in the newspapers to comment on what goes on elsewhere and for their internal management to let them down by not taking their editorial advice.
This is a time of crisis on Fleet Street. That phrase has been used on many occasions. I think that I have attended all the debates in this House on this matter during the last 10 years or so and they have been rare. But now we have reached a particular dilemma. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that the industry was beginning to move up a bit because of increased advertising. That is true, but it makes it all the more difficult when we realise that the loss of 54 million copies of newspapers in the first four months of this year has been unprecedented. It is a loss which cannot be justified by anyone.
Those in Fleet Street who may be listening to this debate today should realise that those who fail to help to resolve the present dilemma will get no satisfaction from Members of this House nor the public. No one here would try to justify that scale of loss and damage. As has been pointed out, it is a question not merely of loss of production of papers but ultimately of the retention of papers in future.
I shall briefly catalogue the losses. They are very serious, but they are not confined to one type of paper. Within the past few months, the Daily Mirror has lost more than 5 million copipes, The Sun 23 million, the Daily Telegraph 7.6 million, The Times 3.l million and the Daily Express and the Daily Mail more than 2 million each. Only one dispute affected all newspapers. That was the distributors' warehousemen's overtime ban. All the other disputes were unconnected, involving different unions and companies. In the main, the disputes were unofficial stoppages.
Losses on this scale argue something organically wrong with the industry. One 824 thing that is wrong is the nature of the structure of ownership. That point was developed by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I think that he was in order to do that, because the spirit and the feel of a newspaper is different in 1978 from what it was 20 or 25 years ago. It is difficult now to identify the ownership and its commitment to newspaper production. There was previously a feeling of common identity.
Three large corporations now produce 80 per cent. of all our national daily and Sunday newspapers, and the majority of papers are now produced by subsidiaries of groups which have no interest in news as such but only in newspapers as another commodity along with travel, television, oil or whatever other companies they own. That must have an impact on the way in which managements take their decisions when dealing with trade unions. The concentration of ownership has made the industry highly competitive, and management has reacted to the situation by encouraging bad habits in labour relations rather than seeking new understandings with the trade unions.
The disintegration of the Newspaper Publishers Association is a symptom of this situation. Some years ago, Mr. Laurence Scott. on his retirement as chairman of The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News, referred to the NPA asthat necessary but ineffective body, which seldom seems to be able to agree on anything but which, by its existence, does nevertheless exert a considerable and helpful influence on our affairs".Regrettably, even that modest criticism would not apply today, because the NPA role have proved even more ineffective. It is unable to tackle some of the structural problems.
It is odd that, at a time of such concern and anxiety, the present chairman serves only in a part-time capacity. I find that extraordinary because, with all the pressures of Fleet Street, I should have imagined the NPA would be justified in having a full-time chairman and proper back-up for its work. Nevertheless, it explains why the Mirror group got out. It restricted its flexibility in dealing with the unions. The News of the World group has also given notice of its withdrawal. Even when all Fleet Street newspapers were members, the 825 NPA proved incapable of operating as was intended. It rarely succeeded in preventing individual managements from buying off impending stoppages.
There are not many solutions to the problems of Fleet Street I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use whatever influence he has, perhaps in the more distant future rather than in the next few days, to ensure that consideration is given to the whole concept and structure of the NPA, because it is not working at the moment.
Dog eat dog is not the climate in which to establish good industrial relations practices. The signs are that the situation has deteriorated when newspapers try to take advantage of another paper's stoppage by producing extra copies. This highlights the fact that there are few good human relationships between the companies, and the competitiveness was very much borne out by the Daily Express which, when another newspaper was unable to appear, went to considerable trouble to produce extra copies and went a long way to justify its action through the courts.
To understand the organic problems of Fleet Street we must resist the temptation to indulge in union bashing. The unions will stand up to the problems with which they are confronted. The NGA, NATSOPA and the other unions know the dilemmas and are dealing seriously with unofficial action. A meeting is to take place tomorrow of the full national council of the NGA over The Observer dispute. I am not as optimistic as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that it will succeed in producing a paper on Sunday, but a genuine attempt is being made.
The unions know that some elements of these matters need to be tackled. We must also look—and I hope that the Secretary of State will do this—not only at the NPA but at the way in which some papers have done their own thing to the ultimate detriment of good industrial relations.
A second factor that contributes to bad industrial relations is the poor communication within the newspapers. Despite the training and development of management, there are many people in the industry who feel that disputes escalate because no 826 one knows what is happening. Such feeling is generated when the unions argue that the other side is taking advantage of its control of the medium by publishing its version of a controversial dispute.
On occasion, this has led to a straightforward refusal to print the newspaper with the offending material in it—a refusal which provokes politicians into high-sounding polemics about the freedom of the Press. This is a highly volatile situation and everyone on both sides of the industry has been engaged in trying to contain it.
If industrial relations had been properly conducted in the first place, the communications system would have been set up to deal with these matters. An NGA officer, Mr. Bill Booroff, has attempted to overcome some of the difficulties that arise when an editorial attacks a union or goes far beyond a mere statement of a particular dispute without allowing a right of reply to those working in the industry.
Mr. Borooff's proposal is that if a newspaper wants publicly to attack a section of its work force, it should be prepared to delay that attack for 24 hours to ensure that an official of the union—not a shop floor representative, but the general secretary—should be invited to reply if he wishes. It would give him an opportunity to have his view alongside any statement put forward in an editorial. It would also help to cool things down. To people of another generation, this proposal would be something that they would wish to accept, but in a modern newspaper world it is at least a creative way out of the dilemma. Those who reject the suggestion will have to offer some alternative.
I was impressed with the way in which the right hon. Member for Lowestoft looked seriously at some of these difficulties, within the industry rather than going in for the bashing of unions and existing procedures.
The third point that is central to our analysis is the shadow and fear of new technology. So far, only one newspaper, the Daily Mirror, has moved towards the introduction of this new technology. It has been able to do so only because it took itself out of the straitjacket imposed by the NPA in order to be able to negotiate with the unions.
827 New printing technology means a total revolution in the organisation of newspaper printing, which cuts right across all traditional printing skills, enabling journalists to put their copy straight on to machines and "composing", in a very new form, to be done by anyone who can operate an ordinary typewriter. It is no wonder that craftsmen of the print unions are reacting fearfully to this new technology. Those who imagine that this is just an extension of the original typesetting and the original form of composition do not understand the industry.
It was said earlier that we have had new technologies and techniques in other industries without the same degree of reaction. However, the newspaper industry is a volatile industry where we are dealing with a considerable craft and long-established practices with long apprenticeships—my apprenticeship as a compositor lasted seven years. The industry has, on one side, a considerable craft content and, on the other, a very large number of casual workers. This mixture at the place of work in itself creates certain problems and demarcation difficulties.
It is because it is one of the oldest crafts and its practitioners take considerable pride in it—a pride that I share—that some of the problems of new technology cannnot be tackled easily. Natural wastage over the years will take care of reduced manning, retraining will ensure employment for those who remain, but nothing can replace a man's pride in his craft. This goes to the root of the technology.
The technology can be introduced and made to work and this is shown by the experience of the Mirror group, which is gradually introducing it into all its operations with the co-operation of the unions concerned. The experience of the United States—not always a good experience—shows what is possible with the new equipment. About 70 American newspapers already use di-litho added to the existing web-offset plants.
There are extremists on the shop floor who will want to make the work of both management and the trade union leadership rather difficult as they try to bring about some of the successes in 828 Fleet Street that we anticipate, but this is a matter for the trade unions to sort out for themselves. I believe that they are serious in their attempts to do so.
It would be unrealistic to expect this industry to be free of such extremists who seek to do damage wherever they are, but even these can be reduced if newspaper management gets down to the job of managing and starts to relate to its work force, rather than trying to solve every dispute with the cheque book, which was certainly the pattern a few years ago and is not likely to have changed much in the last two or three years.
Curiously enough, none of the Royal Commissions and working parties that have examined the industry has given sufficient attention to the problem of industrial relations. There are few solutions which we shall be able to offer to Fleet Street tonight, but it would be wrong for anyone in the newspaper industry to imagine that the House did not care or was not sufficiently anxious about the prospects for its future.
I offer these comments in a brief manner because of lack of time. The Tunes, in a fine editorial today, said:The central flaw in the system is not the malevolence of individuals or their incompetence. It is that the power to stop the papers has been split up into far too large a number of separate units. It would be possible to survive if trade union power were exercised either through whole unionsand so on. This is an accurate description of the industrial relations scene and therefore one possible solution is the merging of trade unions. This is already going on at a pace. Comparing the number of unions in the printing industry today with the number 30 years ago, and one can see dramatic reduction in numbers. Yet the process cannot be rushed and we have had experiences where it has gone badly, but it is one of the positive ways in which the unions and the men will come to terms with some of the demarcation disputes. Mergers within the trade union movement are a powerful influence.
Secondly, we have a right to say to managements that we expect greater competence and communication from them within their works. We do not look kindly on the way in which the competitiveness and the indifference to the 829 industry have grown up over the last few years.
Finally, the "Programme for Action" is the basis for negotiation. It has been referred to by both Front Bench speakers. The programme shows how various problems have been tackled. The question of casualisation is a great dilemma. The whole basis of Saturday night and Sunday morning printing is tied up with casualisation. It was the problem of The Observer last weekend. It will be the problem for other Sunday newspapers. One solution suggested by the working party of trade union leaders and management was that there should be a register of bona fide casuals wholly employed on a national newspaper, and that they should determine the levels of the manning.
There is hope for Fleet Street and within the context of ensuring the survival of newspapers and a wide ranging series of newspapers. The problems that we have seen over the last few months will not simply go away if any one of the parties believes that it has all the answers and is wholly correct.
I shall try to be as fair as I can in mentioning some of the dilemmas. Just as the unions are beginning, through their senior officials, to take responsibility for what goes on through the work force, so management must do the same. It is a question not of being firm but of indicating good intentions for a period of time.
Some Opposition Members do not wish to see too close an involvement by the Department of Employment. I should welcome the interest of the Secretary of State and his successors in this matter. The Secretary of State has a critical responsibility. I hope that his colleague will be more positive about the dispute than was perhaps possible earlier.
It would be wrong and we should be failing in our responsibility if we did not hear from the Front Bench about The Observer dispute. This paper could go under. Many of us have fought for it. It would be a mistake if, because of protocol, we did no more than offer words of encouragement. The House tonight should say strongly to both sides of the industry that they must ensure that The Observer appears on Sunday.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Why is the freedom of the Press so important? It is not because our newspapers invariably are literate, scrupulous and wise, save, conceivably when the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and myself occasionally write for them. They are not. It is because newspapers exist to defend not themselves but the freedom of others.
Overseas, the freedom of the Press is a rarity. Less than one-fifth of States today have even the limited political freedom of the England of William and Mary. The majority of countries are single-party States in which the Press is more or less muzzled. At home, the freedom of the Press is threatened either by economic factors or by politics.
Mr. Moss Evans, who, for good or ill, is likely to be with us for some time, has called for a system of operators' licences for newspapers, monitored by a standing commission with wide powers. It is worth examining Mr. Moss Evans's proposals.
Besides issuing licences to publish, which were abolished in 1685—which perhaps makes Mr. Moss Evans the greatest reactionary in British politics—he would give his commission the following additional powers: to check ownership and control; to advise the Government on subsidies; to establish a finance corporation in order to subsidise new entrants such as the trade unions; to receive all advertising revenues, subtract a levy and then allocate moneys around the Press; and to control the proportion of advertising to editorial content.
That is not all. The commission which Mr. Moss Evans hankers after would replace the Press Council and adjudicate upon complaints. It would have the power to take full remedial action necessary to correct any misleading information and to redress any lack of balance. There woud also be a committee of employers and trade unionists charged with ensuring good industrial relations. This would meanthe full recognition of trades union rights at all levels.That, presumably, means the NUJ's closed shop.
The implications of so radical a change were a future majority Labour Government to prove sympathetic are profoundly 831 disturbing. It must mean at best a neutered Press which resembles the BBC and the ITV in that it could not take a view, or, at worst, a union-controlled Press.
A neutral television is acceptable precisely because we have an unfettered Press. An officially licensed Press such as that advocated by Mr. Moss Evans would be neutral because it would have lost its most important role—that of the scrutiny of what is happening in our country today.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is the hon. Member really saying that our national newspapers today are more efficient at scrutinising than the documentary and other programmes broadcast by the BBC and ITV?
§ Mr. Critchley
That is an interesting question which we could debate as a separate subject. The Times and The Sunday Times would no doubt assert that their inside columns are as good. A debate could go on indefinitely.
Mr. Moss Evans is not the only emasculator. A year or two ago, the Labour Party published a document called "The People and the Media". It has not yet been forgotten. Its main idea was that newspapers and broadcasters should be controlled by committees representing their editorial and production staffs and a number of interests such as the unions, the CBI and the main political parties. That might appear to be fine, but it would mean that newspapers and broadcasters would be controlled by the very people they should be reporting and discussing.
There are other threats to the freedom of the British Press. There is the greed of the Fleet Street unions, and the print unions in particular, with their insistence on overmanning and inflated wages, on the one hand, and the ambition of the National Union of Journalists to bring about a closed shop.
The print unions and their members, whose loyalty is not to their newspapers but to their unions, workshops and chapels, have increased the burdens on national newspapers, most of which run at a loss. They have done that by insisting on higher manning levels than those required outside London and on exorbitant 832 rates of pay. For example, on the Daily Express there are those who earn more than £300 for a less than a 30-hour week. No one on the Daily Express earns less than £140 a week. Such lavishness owes nothing to the laws of supply and demand. Entry to a Fleet Street union is a much-sought-after privilege.
Most union leaders have lost control over their unions. It would be an obvious advantage if there were one union and not seven, but it will be years before that is achieved. As we have seen, the really important unit is at house level—the chapel. The Times, for example, has 53 units, all of which are separate negotiating bodies.
How have the print workers achieved their powers? As Mr. David Astor has written, they have done soby the threat and use of sabotage".Of that there can be no doubt. The NUJ, encouraged by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act is striving to achieve a closed shop, so far, thank God, without much success.
Is journalism just another industrial activity such as mining and engineering? Surely not. Journalism really belongs to politics and literature. Should there be a writers' union, as there is in the Soviet Union? The idea should be abhorrent to us. Should there be a politicians' union to which all parliamentary candidates should belong? The idea is obnoxious to any democrat.
Why, then, should there be a union of writers and journalists with the sole right to issue a licence to print and which would be the only body able to allow its members access to the public prints? The moderates of the NUJ say that they seek a closed shop to raise pay. They see the print unions and, not unreasonably, they are jealous. But there are extremists within the NUJ who would restrict writers' freedom to write and to comment.
They say that nothing should be written to offend the trade unions. They would discriminate against the National Front but not against the Socialist Workers' Party. Would there not be all sorts of dangers if all journalists were obliged to belong to the TUC, which is affiliated to the Labour movement and which has become to all intents the third House of Parliament?
833 The closed shop is, according to one's point of view, either a denial of personal freedom or a legitimate form of organisation which makes for orderly bargaining and industrial peace. But a writer or journalist who expresses an opinion for public consumption may be placed more at risk than some others by a closed shop. Newspapers exist not to protect their own freedoms but to protect the freedoms of others. Could a journalist succeed in doing that and still hold on to his licence?
Today, an employee has little to fear from his boss. What he should fear is the arbitrary removal of his right to work by his union. What has happened to the Press charter? A voluntary charter without the sanction of law would not be worth the paper on which it was written. The Secretary of State knows that he would never be able to persuade this present House to accept a charter that did not have within it a clause allowing a journalist to be free of union membership. Would a majority Labour Government be so modest, however? The answer is clearly "No".
We have seen our freedoms eroded one by one. A closed shop in journalism would mean handing over one of our most fundamental liberties to one union. Were the NUJ to consist exclusively of saints, it would not be right to give so much power to so few. The freedom of the Press underwrites all our other freedoms. If we remove it, we shall all lose our liberty.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has a somewhat idealistic view of the Press. Its purpose, he says, is to protect the freedom of others. Some of us on the Labour Benches cannot feel that as at present constituted the Press carries out that purpose very well. As a Minister for a couple of years, my experience of the Press was that some parts of it seemed concerned more to persecute me than to do anything else. Therefore, the notion that the Press could always be regarded as looking after the interests of the individual is on closer examination one in which even the hon. Member for Aldershot might find a few flaws.
At present, and understandably, Conservative Members appear to take a different view of these matters from my right 834 hon. and hon. Friends and myself. The reason for that came home very sharply to me during the campaign on the referendum on the Common Market. At that time I discussed these matters with some Conservative Members who shared my view that Britain should come out of the Common Market. They were horrified to discover that they had no support in the Press. They had a deep sense of injustice and resentment at that fact. For a moment, I think, they realised that for Labour MPs that was the normal state of affairs. They understood that there was no newspaper to which we could turn with the sense of comfort that Conservative Members expect to experience on reading their newspapers.
The Conservatives expect on picking up their newspapers in the morning not to agree with every word in them but at least to derive some general comfort and support. For a moment those anti-Market Conservative Members, prepared to exercise a free and unlimited choice in purchasing an anti-Market newspaper, realised just how limited that choice was. In other words, the so-called freedom of the Press exists only as long as one can find within the national dailies a newspaper that will broadly cover one's own spectrum of political opinion.
What do Labour MPs do? We read The Times—
§ Mr. Critchley
Surely the hon. Member is being unfair to the Daily Express, which for years waged a strong campaign against the Market.
§ Mr. Jenkins
It did so for years, but at the crucial moment it funked the issue and dodged out. When I tried to approach the Evening Standard on this issue in the hope that it would carry on a nobler earlier Beaverbrook tradition, I got very short shrift from the newspaper, which made it clear that it had changed its mind completely and was wholly in favour of staying in the Market.
There is, therefore, no general comfort in the Press for Labour Members. So what do we do? We buy The Times because we know that we shall disagree with it, and at least it is pretty reliable. We graduate to The Guardian and read it for a few days in the hope of being comforted. Sometimes we read excellent 835 articles in The Guardian, but gradually we become disappointed with it and then we return to The Times because we know that we shall be disappointed with The Times. That eliminates the uncertainty that plagues our every day as a result of reading The Guardian.
I gather from the speeches of Conservative Members that they believe that everything in the garden is lovely and that we have to be very careful or we shall upset the ideal situation which at present exists. Some of them, however, have pointed to some dangers. I spent more years than I care to count associated with one or other trade union, and I believe that a trade union tends to reflect the nature of the industry in which its members are engaged. If one puts this litmus paper into most trade unions, one will find that the characteristics there are a reflection of the industry which employs its members. If there is chaos, therefore, in the print trade unions and in the unions which represent the people who work in the Press, that is to some extent a reflection of the chaos which exists in the Press itself.
The national Press is a declining industry. That is one of the saddest factors. The ideal picture painted by the Conservatives is totally fallacious, because in a perfect arrangement there should be a wide variety of choice so that anyone across a wide spectrum of opinion, possibly excluding the extreme edges, could find in a daily newspaper somewhere a reflection of his point of view. Such a state of affairs used to exist.
Many newspapers have gone now. An example was the old Daily Herald, upon which we could once rely to reflect the broad spectrum of Labour Party opinion. The News Chronicle has gone, too, as has the Sunday Citizen, or Reynolds News as it was known earlier. Some newspapers that I probably would not have liked very much have also disappeared. An example of that was the Empire News, but I believe that even the disappearance of a newspaper which I heartily dislike detracts from the Press.
The Press does not cater for the opinions of nearly half the nation. It is not surprising that it is in trouble when, broadly speaking, Tory employers are employing those who take a view more akin to that shared by the occupants of 836 the Labour Benches. There is not merely an economic difference of opinion between employer and employee. The difference of opinion is also a political one.
I do not believe that the proposals put forward by Mr. Moss Evans contain anything that is likely to come into effect. I have not studied them in detail, but if the summary that we have heard today is at all accurate these proposals are not ones that I want to see go any further. Conservative Members have pushed aside too quickly the proposals contained in the Labour Party's document "The People and the Media". But even that is not something that we can put easily and quickly into legislation.
What our document attempts to do is to look at the reality of the present situation and try to put forward some ideas to change it. Most of the ideas that I have heard from Conservatives suggest that the industry is basically sound and that if only those trade union fellows would put their house in order everything would be all right. Of course it would not. Even the Press charter is only a cosmetic operation—a papering over of a basically unsatisfactory situation.
If we take a more fundamental view, we see that we have refused to look at the media as a whole. We have a committee to examine broadcasting and a committee to look at the Press. In the world in which we live today, the media of public communications are a whole. They impact upon each other. There is a substantial degree of cross-ownership which, I regret to say, has been encouraged in recent years rather than discouraged as it should be. Local newspapers have been allowed to take shares in local radio. That was a mistake, because there should be a complete separation.
The debate so far has sought to improve or mitigate the evils of the present instead of seeking to improve the situation and creating a greater degree of variety. That is not easy. Why are we, on this side of the House, without a newspaper of our own? It costs a great deal of money to establish an effective newspaper, and broadly speaking the newspapers that we would produce would not attract the sort of advertising which goes to newspapers supported by the other side of the House.
§ Mr. Jenkins
That may be the case. But the fact remains that most of the newspapers that are read by Conservatives are written by people who belong to trade unions and vote Labour. Some tell us in private that they are our friends and are on our side but that they have to put the story in a different way because they are not writing for a Labour newspaper.
Perhaps Labour supporters really do not operate in the market and, therefore, lacking the skills of the market, they are incapable of running a newspaper with quite the same sort of panache as the Conservatives. Even that panache is not saving them now. They are in an unfortunate and declining situation. Despite all the alleged skill and capacity to run newspapers of which they boast, their circulation is going down. This does not imply monopoly of genius in the Press.
It seems that some of the activities in the trade unions of the Press are aspects of the "unacceptable face of trade unionism." It is absurd to pretend—as I am sure nobody on this side of the House, or even on the Tory side, would—that capitalism does not have an ugly face. Similarly, it would be stupid to say that trade unionism does not have a pretty unpleasant face from time to time. However, Conservatives seem to suggest that it is possible to make that face look more attractive by legislation. Experience shows that this is not the way to work. There are other ways of improving the situation, but legislation is not one of them.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
If the hon. Member believes that, why did he support the Employment Protection Act?
§ Mr. Jenkins
It would be a very good Act if it served the purpose for which it exists. I fail to follow the hon. Member's argument. There is nothing inconsistent in supporting the Employment Protection Act on certain aspects of employment activity and being opposed to any attempt to control trade union activity by legislation. Trade unions should be 838 free to make their own rules, because those rules differ from industry to industry. The unions should not be told by the Conservatives what sort of rules and limitations they should follow.
A view has been expressed—and it is broadly true—that the local newspaper story is much more of a success story than that of the national dailies or weeklies. To that rule I would make an exception of the London local newspapers. There is something about living in the shadow of the capital which inhibits communications activity in some way. Just as local radio stations in London are not as local or as effective as those outside, local newspapers in London are not as good or effective as local newspapers outside London, many of which I have read with envy. They seem capable of very satisfactory comparison with national dailies.
No newspaper around the suburbs of London could be put in that category. From the point of view of high circulation and advertising, the Wandsworth Borough News is successful. It is the only local newspaper which circulates effectively in my area but its political attitude makes the Daily Express look like a Socialist rag. With our local newspapers we suffer from the inability to have an organ that represents a Socialist point of view, just as we suffer from it nationally.
§ Mr. Critchley
Does not the hon. Member agree that an MP complaining about the Press is rather like a ship's captain complaining about the sea?
§ Mr. Jenkins
Perhaps so, but we have only one ship and we are not the captain of it. We are just on board. To its credit, my local paper prints letters without cutting them. It prints letters from its own supporters and it prints letters from Labour supporters, including me. Therefore, the people of Wandsworth, by courtesy of the Wandsworth Borough News, can read what I think about certain matters. At least, we have a tiny means of getting our point of view over. But the fact remains that from our point of view the Press has not been generally satisfactory.
What is the answer if it is not the one that the Conservatives suggest? I think that it lies in an examination of the whole communications scene. Without being 839 diminished, controlled or limited, the media could support one another. Some areas of communications are highly profitable. The Treasury takes about £30 million a year from the industry in the levy on the independent television companies. Instead of being put back into the industry to support ailing newspapers or for some other connected purpose, that money goes into the Treasury's pouch.
Without creating any editorial control, it would be possible and desirable for the Government to set up an inquiry, not into the Press separately or broadcasting separately but into the whole media of communication, with a view to establishing a means by which the profitable sectors could support the needy ones. Unless additional money is inserted, how can one create variety?
The problem is how to insert the money without inserting control. Without more money going into communications, we shall not increase the variety of the Press nor achieve a satisfactory solution. I hope that the Minister will tell the House that this wider examination of possibilities is not excluded by the Government.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) said in almost his opening sentence that he had a persecution complex about the Press—and it showed in his characteristically eccentric speech. I was glad that he said that the present goings-on in Fleet Street were the unacceptable face of trade unionism. It is on that theme that I want to speak out bluntly—not in any spirit of union-bashing but because this debate is not an internal Fleet Street seminar. It is also about the wider effects of the present troubles on people outside Fleet Street, like newsagents and readers, whose interests are being seriously affected.
The story of industrial relations in Fleet Street is rather like a Greek tragedy in which numerous abuses of greed and power have occurred but Nemesis has not yet arrived to restore sanity or equilibrium. In the past, in common with other hon. Members, I have inclined to the view that the roots of the tragedy went back to the strategic mistakes of the old-style proprietors, who were propagandists first and managers a very poor second.
840 Because of their attitudes, an environment of proprietorial permissiveness was created in which restrictive practices, extravagant pay scales and abuses like ghost working and overmanning were easily accepted. Naturally, the unions exploited that situation. One can hardly blame them for leaping on to the bandwagon and helping themselves to whatever the mutual competitiveness among the then proprietors allowed them to get.
Today, however, life in Fleet Street is rather different. With one exception, the proprietorial families—mine, alas, included—have either gone out of the newspaper business altogether or been swallowed up by conglomerates with wider interests and horizons and with more public responsibilities to their shareholders. As a result, there is a new breed of industrial managers in Fleet Street who are beginning, albeit hesitatingly, to exercise their professional skills and disciplines and actually to do their job of managing. Unfortunately, a manager's task today in Fleet Street is not unlike that impossible labour of Hercules when he was asked to clean the Augean stables.
Fleet Street workers have been for long accustomed to living in a fool's paradise of astronomical wages, good perks, extraordinary restrictive practices and shop-floor abuses, but they are today rather sadly earning themselves a reputation for being just about the greediest, most undisciplined, most selfish and most irresponsible group of trade unionists in the country. Those are harsh words but I believe them to be justified, particularly when nearly 60 million copies of newspapers have been lost this year alone.
Let us begin by looking at the built-in extravagance of the salary structure in Fleet Street, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) refered. Even an unskilled worker in Fleet Street today, such as a cleaner, earns in most unions a minimum of around £120 a week, while a top skilled man, such as a linotype operator on the Financial Times, regularly earns over £330 a week. These gold-plated salaries, ranging as I say from £6,000 to £16,000 a year, are pocketed by workers many of whom work only 28 hours a week. Then they still have the gall to put small newsagents out of business by stopping work in demand for even more money.
841 That brings me to criticise the selfishness of the Fleet Street unions. They seem to have no regard whatsoever to the consequences of their industrial action on those at the sharp end of the newspaper business. Every week this year, about 150 newsagents have been put out of business and their employees thrown on the dole queue.
In my constituency there are 86 newsagents' businesses, each of them usually employing about three or four people. In the last five months, nine have had to close down because of the stoppages in Fleet Street. Many of those still in existence are in a mood of black despair and on the verge of bankruptcy since their weekly takings are down by around 30 or 40 per cent. and still falling because the stoppages are still going on, and, of course, readers' loyalties tend to wane when production is disrupted.
If only these well-paid workers in Fleet Street realised the misery that their industrial action caused in terms of hardship, unemployment and bankruptcy to newsagents and their employees, perhaps a little more sanity might prevail. I hope that the TUC, which rightly shows great anxiety at the present unemployment figures, will try to use its good offices to stop these unemployment figures rising still higher as a result of newsagent closures.
However, the question has to be asked whether it is worth the time of the TUC or any other union leaders to discuss these problems with the Fleet Street unions. In Fleet Street, Lord Acton's famous aphorism about power has to be amended. While it may or may not be true that power generally corrupts, certainly among the Fleet Street unions it is lack of power which has corrupted absolutely.
The union leaders have today lost control of that tiny proportion of their members who work in Fleet Street. The tail is now wagging the dog. General secretaries and union officials have lost authority and individual chapels, fragmented as they are, are in control. Often, it is wildcat elements in individual chapels which are in control. As a result, as so many hon. Members have said, all stoppages are unofficial. Union rule books contain no proper disciplinary procedures, so, of course, anarchy rules.
842 It must be said that this unhappy situation is undoubtedly exacerbated by the activities of a relatively small but rather able and dedicated group of International Socialists and other Left-wing extremists, who, I believe, are operating a sinister conspiracy of industrial disruption in Fleet Street today. The evidence for this is abundant. I shall give a specific example. About 18 months ago, the International Socialists published a pamphlet for Fleet Street workers called "A Militant Chapel Guide". Much of this document, which can only be described as a blueprint for disruption, is devoted to launching an offensive against trade union officials. Indeed, in the section of the guide headed "First Steps", the task of defeating what is called "union bureaucracy" is said to be "inseparable" from industrial action against employers.
In that guide union officials who try to solve disputes by the usual procedures of negotiation and discussion are condemned. The document states:One victory as a result of a walkout or stoppage is worth a dozen round the negotiating table in terms of the morale and militancy of the chapel.With this extraordinary doctrine in mind—that it is better to have a stoppage than to negotiate—it is not surprising that this militant chapel guide goes on to suggest a number of methods of causing maximum disruption, such as the calling of mandatory union meetings at crucial production times, the blacking of telephones and the physical occupation of computer rooms.
Of course I am not suggesting that the revolutionary extremism of the guide is representatives of all Fleet Street workers. It should, however, be required reading for the silent majority of trade unionists so that they can see for themselves what the enemy within the unions is trying to achieve by extremist methods.
Let us face the fact that a great deal of today's disruption is being caused by those so-called political methods. It is no secret, for example, that among the leaders of the 25 NGA men whose unofficial action shut down The Observer last Sunday there are a handful of International Socialist extremists whose revolutionary political motivations are a significant factor in the course that this dispute has so far taken. I very much 843 question whether all the rest of the workers on The Observer, whose jobs must now be threatened, feel that these political factors are a good reason for closing down a great newspaper.
Although I believe that the unions bear the lion's share of the blame for what has gone wrong in Fleet Street today, a fact which I think is borne out by the deafening lack of criticism directed at managements by union general secretaries, who know only too well that their own men are irresponsibly out of control, it is, of course, true that managements, too, could do much to put their side of the house in order.
For example, the handling of industrial relations and personnel matters must be far more professionalised in future. In British industry today many companies have a main board director exclusively dealing with industrial relations. Yet only two national newspaper companies have a main board director responsible for industrial relations. Secondly, the procedures for solving disputes should be maintained by both managements and unions. If they are breached, as they frequently are, both sides are condoning the breaching of these procedures. There is no need for managers to be quite so supine and pliable in meeting breaches of procedures by automatic appeasement.
But, whatever the managements do, it seems almost inevitable, given the current anarchy of the unions, that Fleet Street is in for a long period of aggravation. That aggravation will decline only when the unions have the strength to discipline their own wild men and when managements stand firm more often and have strengthened their own credibility as wage negotiators.
I began by saying that the story of Fleet Street was rather like a Greek tragedy. Yet, for quite understandable reasons, many of the most militant workers believe that the inevitable tragic dénouement of the final scene will never arrive, because unexpectedly out of the wings so far there invariably steps, when closure of a newspaper is imminent, a fairy godmother or a Father Christmas figure in the shape of a Miss Olga Deterding, Sir Jimmy Goldsmith, or some other wealthy personage eagerly brandishing a cheque book and anxious to buy off the closure yet again.
844 A Greek tragedy in which Father Christmas appears, giving it a happy ending, is an incredible scenario, so one must ask whether the present crisis is really just another rerun of the old and increasingly irrelevant story. I think that this time it will be different. Big public corporations such at Atlantic Richfield, Trafalgar House and the Thomson Organisation—which, as I said earlier, have responsibilities to their shareholders—are already close to losing patience with the prevailing anarchy and chaos. Sooner or later one of them will say "This dance shall no further go."
Maybe the crunch will come this week if Atlantic Richfield closes down The Observer indefinitely and does not sell the title to a Father Christmas. Maybe what the Fabian motto calls "the inevitability of gradualness" will prevail until the losses of copies and profit slide slowly into greater and greater decline, until there really will be no more Father Christmases coming forward, because there is nothing left except further prospects of mergers, closures and redundancies.
Therefore, one way or another, I feel in my bones that the Greek tragedy is moving towards its climax, unless the union militants pull back from the brink. I hope that they will, and I strongly advise them to do so. But, then, in the greatest of all Greek tragedies, Cassandra's advice was never listened to until it was too late.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
May I at the outset, like some other speakers, declare an interest, as a member of the National Union of Journalists? I had considerable sympathy with the remarks made at the beginning of the debate by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). They were in marked contrast to the contribution of the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), which was very reminiscent of the words of Lord Thorneycroft, chairman of the Conservative Party, a few weeks ago when he gave sensational warnings to readers of the Sunday Express about the possibility of political sabotage of the Press during the next General Election.
Lord Thorneycroft was reported as saying that the Labour Party would not be 845 fighting on its record, which was indefensible, or on its programme, which was unprintable. He said:Deprived of these supports, I expect the Labour Party to fight a very rough campaign.He added darkly:We must also expect every effort to be made to prevent the presentation of our case.Though most senior Tories are well satisfied with the treatment they receive in the Press, Lord Thorneycroft foresaw a danger that things might suddenly change, and at a critical moment. He went on:The free Press has always up to now provided a solid base for democracy. This freedom was once thought to be threatened either by the possibility of Government interference or by the over-powerful oligarchic influence of great tycoons. The threat today comes from a quite different type of oligarchy. Looking at recent stoppages, introduced at a moment's notice upon almost any pretext, no one could rule out political sabotage during an election directed against newspapers who appear favourable to the Conservative cause.One is tempted to ask the noble Lord which British newspapers appear unfavourable to the Conservative cause at any time. But it is more important to ask how such speculation about political sabotage of the Press during a General Election could be thought worthy of a front-page lead in the Sunday Express under the banner headline:Beware this threat to our liberty—Tory chief sees danger of sabotage at election".I would suggest that the dangers exist primarily in the darker recesses of the noble Lord's mind.
It is certainly true that that is the message being peddled assiduously by the PR men of Tory Central Office and which flows inevitably through the sympathetic typewriters of the bevy of newspapers so favourable to the Conservative cause, and which to some extent has been echoed by Conservative Members in this debate.
Before the debate, I carried out a highly unscientific survey of the News of the World and the Sunday Express from February to early May. I thought that it would be interesting to take two mass-circulation Sunday newspapers as they have plenty of time to prepare reasoned and reflective articles for their readers. The News of the World, claiming the largest Sunday sale, publishes a centre-page political forum, an article devoted each week to a politician or a political commentator to talk to the nation on a 846 leading issue. Over 13 weeks the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and Mr. Paul Johnson, former editor of the New Statesman and professed Tory, had two articles each. There were four by Tory Members, one by a Liberal Member, two by white-collar trade union leaders, one concerning my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and a curiously untopical piece headlined:Private's progress—how Bob Brown became boss of the British Army.Again, looking at those articles over the 13 weeks, one discovers that nine of the articles were devoted to authors who were certainly anti-Labour. I do not think that in anyone's estimate that would represent a fair presentation of political opinion or argument over that period.
Over at the Sunday Express—surely a short head in front of anyone else when wanting to appear favourable to the Conservative cause—political hysteria seems to be the order of the day. Over the same period, from February to May, no fewer than 13 Conservative MPs and three Conservative peers either penned articles or had their speeches prominently reported in the columns of the Sunday Express, invariably on the front page.
I quote a few headlines which give an inkling of the style:Are these MPs trying to do the Kremlin's dirty work?That was by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), who, sadly, seems to have left the debate.How long must the West cringe before the Russians?That was from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour).Haul down the Red Flag—Hoist the Union JackThat was the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind).Dare Dr. Owen still dance to the terrorists' tune?That was the hon. Member for Reigate again. The right hon. Member for Down, South was also given a show, as was Lord George-Brown. But I suppose that all the others were surpassed in their enthusiasm for the Conservative cause by Mr. Paul Johnson again with his stirring pieceI salute the Amazing Margaret.847 That insight into the political presentation of two very large Sunday newspapers and some of the comments in the debate so far must lead us to the conclusion that the claims of the Tory Party to uphold Press freedom must be regarded as highly selective. Press freedom is defended when it can be manipulated by the Conservatives in the interests of the Conservative Party. Press freedom when it impinges on major issues of personal liberty or conflict with the judiciary is quite another matter. That has been given to me by Mr. Ron. recent weeks in the matters concerning contempt and certain newspapers.
We must also look to other aspects of Press freedom over the years which have not met with any great onslaughts or attacks from the Conservative Party. I am grateful for some information that has been given to me by Mr. Ron Knowles, editor of the Journalist, the journal of the NUJ. We can recall certain events which concern Construction News in August 1971, owned by the Thomson Organisation.
That weekly newspaper had won a most respected reputation for its exposures of the seamier side of the construction industry, publishing among other things probing articles on Ronan Point and box girder bridge collapses and revelations that a huge steelworks contract had been awarded to McAlpine's despite a bid at £1 million lower by another firm. It was the kind of paper that the big interests which dominate the construction industry did not like.
Their displeasure was communicated to the Thomson management and the editor of Construction News was told to purge the paper of Left-wing elements on the staff. But the editor had a bit more spirit than the average Thomson editor, and he refused. He was then presented by the management with a most surprising list of requirements. He was told that no industrial relations stories should be carried on the front page, that industrial relations stories should be reported briefly and placed as far away as possible from the news section, that cartoons should be scrutinised for political slant, that headlines should be toned down and care should be taken to avoid anything suggestive of cynicism or sneering, and, finally, that care should 848 be taken to avoid knocking those who provided bread-and-butter advertising revenue.
Once again the editor stood firm and rejected these demands. He resigned in protest. NUJ members drew up their own code of journalistic freedom and presented it to the management, saying that if the employers would not agree to it the editorial staff would go on strike. The strike duly went ahead but was called off when the management agreed to negotiate. But, as the negotiations dragged on and a tame editor toned down an article on working conditions on a pipe-laying contract, the staff began leaving in disgust and another voice of honest inquiring journalism was silenced.
The management also produced a document which I think is a useful commentary on remarks made earlier by one of my hon. Friends. It summed up its attitude to journalism. It stated:In order to sustain and develop the paper, recognition must be given to the importance of that part of the readership market which has executive authority or buying influence in the industry.. The level and standard of reporting and general content of Construction News should reflect this recognition.There are other examples.
The House should be reminded of the time when The Daily Telegraph was found to have a most interesting correspondent reporting the Vietnam war. It carried very often dispatches from its Saigon correspondent, a Mr. John Draw. Regular readers were not particularly surprised that the reports he filed were patently propaganda, but when it was revealed late in 1975 that he was none other than an officer on the general staff of the South Vietnamese army even Fleet Street's most cynical eyebrows lifted a little.
The John Draw deceit was uncovered by Mr. Chris Mullin, a talented broadcasting journalist who offered the story to The Times, The Guardian and the UK Press Gazette in view of their consuming interest in an honest and free Press. They all declined to use it, but shortly afterwards the UK Press Gazette published prominently and unblushingly the following statement by the editor of The Daily Telegraph, Mr. William Deedes, who told the Gazette:Disclosure is the main part of a newspaper's business".849 The humbug about disclosure is compounded because in their own internal affairs newspapers are notoriously secretive and are at pains to conceal the fact that they have industrial malpractice in their industry.
§ Mr. Critchley
The hon. Gentleman is clearly not in favour of a free Press. Is he, therefore, in favour of a controlled one?
§ Mr. Madden
I am very much in favour of a free Press, but the people taking part in this debate and listening to it should understand that the most important question, when one considers a free Press is a free Press for whom? We must also be most concerned with truly free access to a free Press. As has been said many times in the debate, we do not have unqualified freedom of the Press or unqualified access.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us, before he resumes reading his speech, who wrote it?
§ Mr. Madden
I made it clear that the examples I was quoting had been provided by the editor of the Journalist, Mr. Ron Knowles. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the time, but I thought I had made it abundantly clear.
My next reference is to the Financial Times. I believe that it is highly relevant to the enormous difficulties lying at the centre of the debate, as many people who know the newspaper industry will confirm. On the morning following publication of the interim report of the Royal Commission on the Press in March 1976, the Financial Times failed to appear. I am sure that at that time its failure to appear was put down to the dastardly deeds of trade unionists who were again destroying the freedom of the Press by denying the Financial Times readers their morning newspaper.
The reason why the newspaper failed to appear, however, was that the editor of the Financial Times had sought to make some very important deletions from the copy concerning the report of 850 the Royal Commission. He had apparently ordered that figures of Fleet Street journalists' earnings should be deleted from the story while agreeing to printers' wages being published. The Commission's figures showed that senior editorial staff on the highest paid newspaper in Fleet Street were earning an average of £360.50 per week, or £18,750 a year, and that the highest paid production staff averaged £240 a week, or £12,500 a year. This sort of action is not unknown to people who work in the newspaper industry and, as I have said before, it creates many of the difficulties which lie at the heart of the problems that we are discussing today.
It is worth recalling a well-known matter relating to the long-standing difficulties which existed between the editor of the Financial Times and its most noted columnist of the Lombard column over many years, Mr. C. Gordon Tether. Over a period of two years he had enormous difficulty in getting much of his material for the column published, although under a previous editor he had experienced no such difficulty and, indeed, had been considered a most valuable and important member of the staff and an important asset to the Financial Times. But Mr. Tether was given a letter from the editor during the summer of 1974 which stated:The Lombard column should confine itself to … the general financial, economic and banking scene, and, since this is a subject on which you have written for many years, the EEC problem.The letter went on, however, to say:I do not wish you to write about the EEC problem more than once a week, after specific consultation with me.I think that that example again gives a very intersting indication of the sort of difficulty which people in the industry not infrequently experience. People in the newspaper industry, in whatever capacity, are for the most part trained and qualified. Some, particularly journalists and sections of production staff, are highly trained and highly qualified. They do their work invariably under extreme pressure of time. Many of them, especially in the provinces, do not receive considerable sums of money for what they do.
That is illustrated in the average annual salaries of journalists and clerical, management and production employees which 851 were published by the Royal Commission and followed a sample of 13 newspaper houses which was carried out by ACAS. This revealed that journalists were the second lowest paid group of workers within the 13 houses that were surveyed. That position has existed for many years, particularly in the provinces and in the London offices of provincial newspapers.
Journalists have recognised the need to improve their pay and conditions. Like many other workers, they have seen the need to negotiate closed shop arrangements, to maximise their negotiating power and to secure better pay and conditions.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Has my hon. Friend noticed that very few members of the Press appear to be interested in reporting the subject of their own industry?
§ Mr. Madden
Doubtless they know that the prospect of much of the debate seeing the light of day in the newspapers tomorrow is limited and are probably acting accordingly.
I remind the House that agreed closed shops for journalists exist and have existed in a number of newspaper offices for many years. The Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Record and the Sunday People have had closed shops for many years. Others are in existence at the Evening Standard, the Stratford Express Group and the Home Counties Group, although, incidentally, the company was expelled from the Newspaper Society for its audacity in agreeing a closed shop arrangement with its editorial staff. The closed shop is also present at the Daily Express and even the Sunday Express. As I have sought to show, that does not seem to have done anything to imperil the opportunity of Tory Members seeing their golden prose in print.
There are also understandings about closed shops at The Sun and the News of the World. There is virtually 100 per cent. membership of the NUJ at The Times and The Guardian.
§ Mr. Critchley
I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman say that there was almost 100 per cent. membership of the NUJ at The Times.
§ Mr. Madden
That is what I said. As journalists and, indeed, other newspaper 852 workers depend for their livelihood on the survival of their newspapers and the continuation of the newspaper industry, any claims that newspaper workers are plotting to wreck their own papers or the industry are very difficult to sustain. They are worried at the growing concentration of ownership of newspapers into fewer and fewer hands, both in London and in the provinces. They are anxious about newspapers becoming marginal activities of giant commercial conglomerates involved in every conceivable commercial enterprise in Britain and abroad.
They object to the money men and accountants dominating in positions of power and influence where once men with journalistic and commercial flair, courage and insight were in the ascendancy. They regret that it is now virtually impossible to tell the difference in format, style or content of popular newspapers which were once provocative, campaigning and highly individualistic. They despair that newspapers are the vehicles for sex, trivia and, all too frequently, third-rate opinion in between a mass of advertising material.
Of course there are exceptions, and one hopes that there will be a greater effort to achieve higher standards in the popular Press. These standards have certainly been in sharp decline over recent years. The newspaper industry faces severe challenges from newspaper technology, from new ways of transmitting news and information and from other sections of the media. These pressures of concentrating ownership, more aggressive management, worrying financial positions and the manning implications of new technology all create a response among those who work in the industry. The closed shop, a determination to secure reasonable pay and conditions, closer co-operation than hitherto between production workers and journalists and certainly union reorganisation are inevitable.
These developments ought not to be interpreted as sinister conspiracies but rather as industrial developments which are happening and will continue to happen in the newspaper industry, and, indeed, in other industries. For good or ill, the newspaper industry cannot be viewed in isolation, and certain of its workers, especially journalists working for provincial newspapers, cannot be 853 denied rights which are enjoyed by workers in many other industries.
I do not regard the challenges which face the industry as being matters of low importance. There are considerable problems which have to be overcome, and I am sure that they will not be overcome either by complacency or by seeking to shift the blame particularly on to production workers, and in some respects on to journalists. The blame for the plight of the industry can be laid at the door of all sections of the industry, and I think that a start is being made by the industry in trying to address itself to those problems.
If the debate has assisted in that process it is welcome, but I am sure that the problems of the industry will not be overcome—or, indeed, put behind it—by the comments made in the debate. I certainly believe that the House and the Government can do a great deal to assist the industry to come out of the difficulties which it has faced for many years. I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister of State will be able to indicate where the Government can actively assist the industry, because it needs particular help and assistance in some aspects of its problems. Above all, however, it requires the understanding both of the House and of the Government.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
Sadly, I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), except in one idiom. That was in his hope that this debate would be of benefit to the newspaper industry. I believe that it was being just that until the hon. Gentleman got to his feet. I should like to applaud another stated action of the hon. Gentleman, which I hope has been followed by all hon. Members. That was the careful noting of Lord Thorneycroft's warnings about what might happen, through Press censorship for political reasons, come the next General Election. Let us hope that his Lordship will be proven wrong. But it is obviously absolutely correct that he should give the warnings now while they could be reported and appreciated by all.
I fear that the hon. Member for Sowerby laced his speech with condescension about the Press and sloppy thinking throughout. It turned out to be entirely a politically loaded diatribe. He questioned 854 what Press freedom was really about. I suggest that it is very simple in statement but difficult to achieve. It is to allow people to write and, if that writing is good enough, to be carried by the Press. The hon. Gentleman gave a very good example of the attempt by a management to choke Press freedom when he told the story about Construction News. I am in no position to tell whether or not that story is true, but if it is true as he described it he is giving the exact example of how it is impossible for management to influence editorial staff. That was what the hon. Gentleman previously suggested in an intervention.
Earlier, from a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman said that he would give examples of editorial intervention by advertisers. Presumably it was the example of Construction News to which he was referring. In fact, the very intervention that he illustrates was unsuccessful. That proves the point made by the hon. Member who was speaking at the time, as well as by the Royal Commission on the Press, that there is absolutely no relationship at all between advertising expenditure and editorial slant.
§ Mr. Madden
I find it very difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman in his argument. Clearly, from the information which I gave, it was self-evident that the requirements of advertisers solely dominated the mind of management in making the requirements that it made on the editor to design and ensure that the content of his newspaper met with the requirement and support of advertisers. The clear implication was that if it did not, advertising revenue would dry up.
§ Mr. Rathbone
The point is perfectly put. It was exactly the point I was making. It was because the management took that attitude that the editor walked out and the magazine folded. That is exactly what will happen in any instance where management tries to exert that sort of pressure upon the editorial staff. The case is made as clearly as it possibly could be.
Another point that I should like to correct in the hon. Gentleman's speech is his claim that almost 100 per cent. of writers on The Times are members of the NUJ. I cannot quote a precise percentage, but I think I am right in claiming that there are more members of the IOJ 855 on the editorial staff of The Times than there are members of the NUJ. If I am anywhere near right in that contention, I think that we must look upon the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech with considerable doubt.
Having got that introduction off my chest, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friends on raising this difficult problem. I could not quite understand the Secretary of State's comment that this was a peculiar subject to raise. I believe that it was an entirely appropriate subject to raise, because it is not only crucial to a particular industry in this country but is crucial to the operation of a free Press.
I must declare an interest as a director of an advertising agency which places more advertising in the national Press than any other advertising agency in the Kingdom. That has absolutely no bearing at all on what I intend to say in this debate. However, I should like to make two comments with regard to advertising. First, the Royal Commission on the Press found that there was no influence by advertisers on editorial reporting in the Press. That cannot be said too often, because it is too often misclaimed by Labour Members that the opposite is the case.
Secondly, I should like to express my own personal feeling that it is a tragedy when it is necessary to transfer advertising from one newspaper, which happens to go on strike, either to other newspapers or to other media, most often local radio. That is neither as cost efficient in terms of marketing and expenditure nor good for the company or for the economy in its own small way. It is not as useful for the potential purchaser, because the information is not as readily available. It is also bad for society to have the future viability of the publication which has lost the advertising put in jeopardy.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), I was concerned at the lack of visible advance on the Press charter. His concern was laced with doubt as to whether any charter would be acceptable to the NUJ if it had sufficient teeth to it. I noted the Secretary of State's description of the Press charter. I was concerned at the differentiation which he drew between what he described as "all-party support"—in this 856 instance all parties to the Press world, not political parties—for agreement that the charter should apply to all but only "considerable agreement" about resistance to pressures on editors. Perhaps when replying the Minister can elaborate on the difference between "all-party support" and the rather ambivalent description of "considerable agreement" about resistance to pressures on editors.
I should also like to add my own question to the one which has already been put. When can we expect the final charter? There has been an extremely long pregnancy. I hope that after four years we can expect it before the year ends. In turn, that may mean that we should be looking for it before a General Election comes. This bears upon one half of the immensely complex problem of the freedom of the Press and industrial relations within the industry.
Fundamentally, a journalistic post-entry closed shop means that no new journalists or photographers who are not NUJ members, or who are not prepared to join the NUJ, whether or not they are members of the IOJ, can work in journalism. This direction has been supported by the influential and very important print industries committee of the TUC. As other hon. Members have pointed out, it has obviously grown from a steadily eroded standard of living amongst journalists compared with the wages of those in the printing and distribution of newspapers, which have soared ahead. It must have been this, at least in part, that was at the core of the militancy which started 10 years ago and which has sadly led to an improvement in their wage scales. I say "sadly" not because of the improvement in wage scales but because of the actions that were necessary to achieve it.
I myself have great sympathy with those journalists, but linked with that sympathy I must deplore their attitude to the closed shop, particularly the closed shop brought about by the coercion that they have brought to bear.
Unfortunately, the NUJ has had more than its fair share of extremists coming to the fore recently, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) pointed out, with that horrifyingly explicit "A Militant Chapel Guide" from which he quoted earlier in the debate. So a very real threat remains to 857 the Press, as I believe is appreciated also by many members of the NUJ, that political slant in journalism could be encouraged, could be pressurised and could even be imposed.
I fear that I have to suggest that the present Government, in their speeches and in some of their legislative actions, have done nothing to support those with such reasonable worries, and it could even be claimed that the Government have done everything to encourage those with the unreasonable threat in mind. Therefore, it is all the more welcome that Mr. Ken Morgan is now arguing a reasonable line in the Press Council and that his successor, Mr. Ashton, seems to be more aware than the Government of the threat to Press freedom which still remains.
At present, while we wait upon the advent of the Press charter, the far greater and more immediate threat is from the printers' unions, the threat that they can have in influencing editorial content by taking industrial action.
§ Mr. Booth
This is the second time that the hon. Member has referred to waiting for the Press charter. The first time he spoke of waiting four years. On what does he base this suggestion? The requirement to produce the Press charter did not fall to me, as Secretary of State, until March of last year. It was a requirement of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976, and then only if the parties did not reach agreement within a year. What is the basis of the hon. Member's suggestion of a four-year wait?
§ Mr. Rathbone
The very fact that the Labour Party has for a long time been supporting the whole contention of a closed shop for the NUJ leads me to expect the Labour Party, if it is at all concerned about the freedom of the Press, to have had some protection in mind as to how the Press would operate once the closed shop had come into operation. Therefore, as soon as the requirement was put upon the Secretary of State's shoulders for the preparation of a Press charter, it seems peculiar to me that it could not come off the stocks, as it were, as one would expect it to have been prepared even prior to the present Labour Government coming into office. It is from the moment that they came 858 into Government that I trace the four years, because even if they had not had it prepared before I presume that, with that in mind, they would have started preparation of it immediately afterwards.
The Minister of State is grumbling away to himself, but I wonder how the Government thought that Press freedom would be affected. If the Government were going to support the closed shop under the NUJ, how were they going to ensure that Press freedom existed? Perhaps later, when the Minister replies to the debate—
§ Mr. Walker
Will the hon. Member give one scrap of evidence that the Government have supported the closed shop in journalism in the way in which he has just suggested?
§ Mr. Rathbone
History is so much against the Minister that I am surprised that he even got to his feet to try to intervene, let alone to press his intervention. The Government have over and over again supported the closed shop in every aspect of British industry. To the best of my knowledge—and I should be interested if it is ever on record, because I and my hon. Friends would like to have it as a point of reference—no member of the Government has ever made one statement against the closed shop in journalism. If the Minister can demontrate the opposite, I should be only too pleased to eat my words, if not my hat.
§ Sir John Rodgers
Before my hon. Friend leaves this most important point about the closed shop in journalism, may I ask whether he is aware, and whether Ministers are aware, that in Western Europe there is only one other country that would ever contemplate a closed shop in journalism, and that is Denmark? In all the other countries, either there are laws to make it illegal to have a closed shop in journalism or the issue has never 859 arisen because they do not believe that anyone would be so foolish as to think about it.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that important point. I only add before we move on that it may be that those countries feel themselves to be better and more committed members of the United Nations in applying that attitude, because, of course, it is under the United Nations that it is an equal right to belong to a union and not to belong to a union. That is a quite important point to draw back to the Government's notice now.
However, moving on from the operation of the closed shop in journalism, I suggest to the House that a far greater and more immediate threat now exists from the print unions' influence on editorial content. I have already mentioned the muzzling of the Hon. David Astor's remarks in The Times on 14th January 1977 as one example. That muzzling was roundly condemned by the NUJ at the time, and it is therefore in no way as a reference against the NUJ that I refer to that unfortunate incident.
However, I question, as others have questioned earlier in the debate, how much this is due to newspaper managements. I wonder how much newspaper managements have ensured that a well-understood procedure is established for employees' in the same way as one exists for the public, to comment on or to reply to statements or opinions in the newspaper which they help to produce but with which they disagree. I wonder whether managements are certain that fathers of their chapels really understand the true economics of their publication by telling the truth, and the whole truth. Too often the truth has become veiled in managements saying one thing—"This far and no further", as it were—and, then in the interests of getting the paper out, or, indeed, in the interests of anything else, proving that they are ready to go much further.
We see this, sadly in the example of The Observer right now, where the local chapel thinks that the manning levels should be established to meet union desires rather than to do the job that needs doing and to do the job which has been done very effectively indeed as the 860 newspaper has been getting properly on the road again.
I wonder whether newspaper managements are symbolic of management in United Kingdom industry as a whole. I believe that they may be so. There are too often examples of flabby management in newspapers. Too often they prove to be a soft touch, working to the principle of "print at all costs". It is management profligacy and a lack of management direction which have led to much of the expensive overmanning. I believe that it stems from too little perspective of the future costs of decisions taken today. In other words, for example, they should compare the costs of meeting any demand from suppliers, workers or distributors with business like analysis of what can or should be done for the long-term good of their newspaper, for the long-term good of the newspaper's readers and for the long-term good of those who produce it, and, having come to that decision, as my right hon. Friend said, standing firm by it.
I wonder how often middle management protects senior management and senior management protects top management from the troubles with which they struggle either out of fear of too strong a reaction from the next layer of management above them or because they would prefer to have peace at any price and they fear showing their own inadequacies. How often does top management refuse to support middle management in its daily and difficult task, and how often does management make an agreement with union leaders only to back down under a modicum of pressure from a few difficult union members to the detriment of management, of union leaders and eventually of union members?
I suggest that those who work in newspapers too often feel that they owe their loyalties to their unions rather than to the companies that employ them. It seems that that feeling stems from four aspects, all of which touch upon the subject of the debate. The first aspect is that unions always seem to be able to get more from the profligate management to which I have referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East mentioned the wage scales of production workers now being between £140 and £320 a week for a working week of as little as 28 hours. Even on that basis, the members 861 of the unions in those newspapers can expect their chapels to go to bat on their behalf to get even more.
Secondly, the unions can always threaten to take away what is in fact and in practice the ticket to a well-paid job. The link between the worker and his local chapel can only be enhanced if he is working within a closed shop. Thirdly, too often unions control not only who does what but how many should do it. That is one of the crimes of history in the operations of Fleet Street today, and most especially is it to be found on the delivery rounds of the London evening newspapers.
Fourthly, and perhaps underlying my first three points, the unions have yet to understand—it may be that it has not been explained to them properly—the real extent of the threat of the demise of the present mastheads. We all watch with nervousness as The Observer struggles this week with its present difficulties.
Is it surprising that new technology has not been introduced or that where it has been introduced it has not come on stream when tomorrow's newspaper is more important than next year's newspaper and the jobs that go with it? Is it surprising that newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph can go for months on end with hardly one day with no lost copies? How can manning levels be reduced without management commitment to substantial redundancy payments, especially to buffer the elderly who face a considerable gap between their present high earnings levels and their future retirement pensions?
It is interesting that it has been reported that of the 8,000 people now working at Express Newspapers only 1,000 are really necessary to produce those newspapers, and that of the 650 journalists working there only 50 to 70 are required. There may be exaggeration within those figures, but the fact that they can be quoted as a possibility is an illustration of the difficulty that I have been trying to portray. Surely the dead weight of too many employees and too little use of modern machinery and methods cannot continue for long. Inexpensive new machinery will enable new newspapers to start circumventing the dead weight and competing with the existing mastheads of Fleet Street, first with their circulation 862 and eventually, as circulation drops, with their jobs. New methods of communication, such as Viewdata and Ceefax, must be growing threats to the inefficient, costly and old-fashioned newspaper production.
Drawing upon the ACAS proposals and other thinking, I suggest five points that might be part of a plan for the rejuvenation of Fleet Street. They are extremely simple. My first point is to complete quickly the retirement on generous terms all of those working in Fleet Street over 65 years of age. The work force of over-65-year-olds in Fleet Street still accounts for over 5 per cent. of the total work force.
The second point is to reduce overmanning which, including the over-65-year-olds, still represents about one-third of the total work force in Fleet Street, agreeing generous redundancy payments on an investment basis in the same way as money is put into new bits of machinery or into a new printing press.
The present formula for redundancies is still not sufficiently generous, even though under that formula a 55-year-old man who has worked for 20 years and who now receives, for example, £180 weekly would receive 87 weeks' pay, which would produce a total of £15,660. However, if more money is needed to achieve the demanning that is needed, that must be a good investment for the newspapers concerned. Such redundancy payments would be made all the more valuable by the Government's plan to raise the ceiling of taxation from £5,000 to £10,000, that plan having been announced yesterday.
The third point is to invest in machinery or, where such investment has been made already but the machinery has never been introduced, to bring in new technology. That could make up to a 25 per cent. difference immediately in terms of cost and efficiency. The fourth point is to improve pension plans and to institute carefully thought-out compulsory retirement plans for the future, for discussion and agreement with the unions.
The fifth point—it is especially appropriate at present with the return of better days for newspapers—is to lay the groundwork, perhaps through the NPA, of a self-help plan for newspapers in distress in future, avoiding either distasteful Government interference one of these 863 days or the inevitable loss of jobs resulting from the collapse of another masthead.
Finally, I suggest that the public's right to receive news is matched by a newspaper's duty to give it. It is that duty that underlies our debate. It must not be shirked by newspaper management, journalists, producers, distributors or Members of Parliament.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I apologise for not having been in the Chamber throughout the debate. However, I have heard a great deal of it.
It is unfortunate that the House should have become used to something that would have been unthinkable when I first became a Member, namely, a succession of verbatim, written-out speeches, which now seems to be quite a tradition and which happens in debate after debate. Nothing kills the way in which debates should take place in the House as much as a long succession of speeches that are delivered with the use of verbatim notes.
I declare an interest. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists. I had to become a member when I was thrown out of the House in 1970. I had to earn my living as a freelance journalist. Having had to do that as an ex-Member of Parliament, I do not take kindly to the argument that journalists are paid too much. The payment that I received as a freelance journalist was some of the hardest earned money that I have ever received. I never had any position in the NUJ except as an ex-treasurer of the New Statesman chapel. I had so little money to disburse in that job that my duties were absolutely minimal.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to take up the distinction that he drew—a very revealing and educative distinction—between television channels, which he said were properly controlled with Government interference to ensure editorial impartiality, and what he called Press freedom which it would be utterly improper to control in the same way. The distinction that he drew was wholly and absolutely false. The hon. Gentleman made that 864 point because of the suggestion by Moss Evans and the Labour Party from time to time that we should have regulatory powers over newspapers as well as television.
I believe that there is only one distinction between the newspaper and television industries. The newspaper industry is overwhelmingly in the grip of Tory proprietors, whereas the television industry, by statute, in terms of political content, is as impartial as such an industry can be. To say that there is something inherently good for democracy about the British newspaper industry is to bend the meaning of the words.
The British daily papers are to a large extent an arm of the Conservative Party. Last week in Private Eye, which I think is an excellent and salutary addition to the British media, there was a story about David English instructing his senior Lobby correspondent with copy provided by his No. 3 Lobby correspondent on how to write up the Leader of the Opposition on the ground that the Daily Mail was a Tory paper. That story has not been denied. We hear stories of editors gagging their journalists. Not even a senior Lobby correspondent in this place is free from the kind of gross political pressure to which the Lobby correspondent of the Daily Mail is subject in this place.
I do not find the distinction drawn by the hon. Member for Aldershot at all real. I hope that we shall move towards the kind of regulatory powers—they will have to come slowly—that have been put forward by the Labour Party and the Transport and General Workers Union so that we may have a genuinely free Press in which it is possible for new papers and magazines to start more easily than today.
It is worth asking in passing—and, in passing, I promise not to trespass on anything that I ought not to say, since I am going to mention a certain incident—which papers are in danger today. It is not only The Observer. What happened when people tried to start The Leveller—a splendid new paper of the kind of which there were dozens in the nineteenth century—which, along with Time Out and Private Eye, stood alone in our modern regulated society? It was clobbered and threatened by the Government. The same applies to Peace News.
865 What happened to Time Out—one of the most interesting and successful ventures in journalism over the past few years? Its journalists were arrested and charged. Proceedings are taking place, so I do not want to say any more about that. But suppose the Government were to arrest and charge and to take away all the private notes of a journalist on The Times. What reaction would there be?
We hear about papers in danger. I find from my experience as an NUJ member that it is the investigative papers, which try to find out too many secrets, which are clobbered. The way for a newspaper to survive is to produce bland pap, like The Sun and the News of the World, and not to investigate anything worth investigating.
I still believe in Aneurin Bevan's judgment on the British Press—that it is the most prostituted in the world. If Aneurin Bevan were alive today, I do not think that he would come to any different judgment.
I might even plead guilty to this. I am not only a journalist, but a member of one of those famous cosy little groups—the education correspondents' group. One could not really accuse the education correspondents' group of anything very terrible. Yet, as a group, we attended teachers' and students' conferences with the desire not to investigate and find out what was happening, but, among Fleet Street correspondents, to make sure that they all agreed on the headline for the next morning. If there were any suggestion of the Daily Mail saying that one thing was the story for the following morning and the Daily Express saying something else, both would be bothered after 6 p.m. by their editors saying "What about this other story?" Of course, they prefer to spend the hours after 6 o'clock at night on activities other than journalism.
The education correspondents' group is a mild example. There is also the motoring correspondents' group, which is notorious for the way that it does not so much investigate motor cars as accept the patronage of the great, rich, manufacturing, advertising motor car companies. I could replicate that example time and again.
I appreciate that one must not refer to these matters, but it is significant that 866 the most senior cabal of this kind—there are few of them here, but the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) is a former member—is the parliamentary Lobby. In my view, that is immensely less investigative, brave and determined to find out exactly what is happening than it could be. It is far too addicted to ministerial briefings and taking what is happening from Ministers rather than trying to find out the truth of what is going on, because it is absolutely dependent on the flow of information from Ministers. Indeed, in my odd moment I often muse whether British journalists would have been capable of uncovering a Watergate if there were or, indeed, is anything like that going on in Britain.
§ Mr. Madden
Does my hon. Friend recall that Mr. Tony Howard was appointed by The Sunday Times to carry investigations of Whitehall and had to cease those operations within weeks because he was regularly defective in this role? Is it not interesting to note that searching investigations of various consumer products are carried out by Which?, which has to rely on subscriptions to carry out that investigative work?
§ Mr. Price
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. This is not a party point. The Government which clamped the Civil Service down on Tony Howard when he was appointed by The Sunday Times was a Labour Government. It was a foolish action. It was slightly foolish of Mr. Howard to call himself the Whitehall correspondent. Had he simply called himself a reporter he might have got a little further for a little longer.
The British Government are the most secretive in the world. Instead of being combated by the most investigative group of journalists in the world, they are often confronted by the most complacent, and complaisant, sloppy group of 867 journalists that one could find anywhere in the West.
I have recently completed a year in the lush pastures of the European Parliament. It was a nice sort of sabbatical. I had a chance of reading every day the French, Belgian and British Press and comparing them. In reading the French and British Press, one is struck by the triviality of the British Press—the constant mixing of comment with so-called reporting and the complete lack of what any American journalist would consider journalistic ethics. By that I mean that either one comments on something or one reports it straight.
Almost every daily headline and the first five sentences in the Daily Express or the Daily Mail are twisted to try to bend the story in a particular way. Other papers copy them. It is a British tradition. It is nothing to be proud of. Conservative Members have been parroting what I might call the Levinist line. This great democrat, Bernard Levin, was mandated by my branch of the NUJ, the London freelance branch, at the annual conference to take a particular line about the Colonel B affair. The first thing that he did at the conference was to break his democratic mandate. That is the sort of character who purveys the line that we have heard from the Conservative Party.
We have the muzzling of David Astor. We are never told about the muzzling of Gordon Tether. It is always said to be the unions who are the problem and not the management.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
May I ask the hon. Member about his own London freelance branch? Is it not true that in the columns of The Journalist, the NUJ newspaper, the London freelance branch published a resolution against capitalist control and said:When the columns of the Press are open to the Labour movement we shall obviously reconsider the matter."?Is not that frightening?
§ Mr. Price
Many frightening things are printed in many newspapers each day. I did not see that story. We have had a little quotation from it. I should have liked to read all of it before commenting on it. I agree that there are 868 many people in the journalist unions who are deeply dissatisfied with the sickening atmosphere in which they have grown up and with the example purveyed by their complacent superiors. If the comments of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) arise from this sort of dissatisfaction, it is only part of a fundamentally healthy movement that is attempting to bring to British journalism some of the decent standards which it has not had, with a few honourable exceptions, this century.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) admitted that management was not Simon-pure. The Sporting Life was the first of the Mirror group journals to introduce the revolutionary new processes. It had the co-operation of the unions and there were many discussions and preparations. On a Sunday just over a fortnight ago everybody was asked to come in at 7 o'clock in the morning to produce the Sporting Life for Monday. By 7 o'clock at night hardly half the paper was printed and it had to be abandoned. The same thing happened on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then the men went back on the next day to the old hot-metal process because of the failure of a management which had been charged with organising something and which had had co-operation from the unions but had failed to move over to the new process.
Those who say that it is a black and white issue, that only the unions are to blame and that managements are hard done by, should remember stories of that kind. The journalists on The Sporting Life were anxious for the paper to get on to the new process because there was a great deal in it for them.
It would be a pity if all that came out of the debate was advice to and knocking against the print unions in the upper-class, complacent tones of the House of Commons. The trade unions and management have a difficult job to do and have had this job over the past years. For the first time they are tackling it with much more vigour. Side by side with this there is a completely new breed of young journalists, for many of whom Watergate was a new experience. Many of them were brought into journalism, not only in America but all over Western Europe, because they felt—just as some people went into politics to have an 869 influence on the world and other people went into the law—that they could find a newspaper in their country which would do what the Washington Post did in the United States and sweep away the lies and the deceit with which the country was being governed.
Carping criticism has been levelled at the NUJ in the hope that this new breed of journalists will somehow go away, that it is a temporary phenomenon and that if we can get Bernard Levin to bash the NUJ a bit harder everything will be all right. That is completely absurd and is a misreading of a new and healthy situation which I welcome.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) cannot have had the privilege of hearing the whole of the debate, as I have. I cannot reconcile his commentary and judgment with the conduct of the rest of the debate.
We have been particularly fortunate to have had a series of extremely constructive speeches designed to analyse some of the problems of an important industry, to recognise their nature and to seek constructive solutions. It is therefore all the more regrettable that an opportunity should have been taken to denigrate people who are seeking to find answers that recognise the importance and nature of the problem.
The speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West reflected some of the observations of some of his hon. Friends. I am sorry that some of them have left the Chamber. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) pointed out the difficulties he had experienced in expressing himself in his local newspapers and, indeed, in newspapers generally.
That fact ties up with my observation of my constituents who always read the speeches of those who belong to another political party. They do not even recognise the existence of points of view that are similar to their own. They feed upon an opposite point of view. It is not surprising that people feel that an inadequate response is not as a result of their own efforts.
I am probably one of the most unreported hon. Members. That is an honourable score. My only claim to fame in the national Press was when I 870 expressed concern about the health and future of earthworms. That produced a gratifying response and the constituents concerned felt that I had achieved a notable success. It was a matter which produced a response, and that is the nature of the industry we are discussing. I do not complain about that.
I can think of another Labour Member, with whom I am closely associated, who has been extraordinarily successful in drawing attention to matters of national and local concern best illustrated by his answer to the question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" He replied:That is a matter which I have referred to my county planning authority in order to see that a crossing is erected at that point. It demonstrates the very unsatisfactory nature of the EEC regulations on this subject, and I am proposing to introduce a private Member's Bill to make sure that chickens of this nature have proper parental control.That was a way of demonstrating, quite properly, that there are ways of bringing forward any political issue. It was successful on that occasion, but it was not reflected by a paranoid view of the Press of the neighbourhood. On the contrary, that hon. Member succeeds frequently in expressing a cogent party point of view which is recognised. I sometimes feel that there is an opposite representation, and that makes my point.
The hon. Member for Putney gave evidence to the Select Committee on Wealth Tax. I was a member of that Committee, and I am surprised that he should be concerned about his inability to obtain proper attention for matters that he regards as significant. I remember reading with great interest his general views before he gave evidence to the Committee and afterwards reading at great length about the evidence that he had given in his capacity as Minister for the arts.
When talking about different relationships with the Press, we have to look at the role of the Government. Government by Press release is a new phenomenon and we must recognise it. A most interesting recent book "The Abuse of Power" demonstrates that the struggle for the Press to present information in a cogent and open form is no new issue. The dimensions of the issue take a different form as time goes by, but the pressure of the Government in seeking to put their own case and the power of the Executive 871 seeking to control the media machine is nothing new. It has been happening throughout history. Newspaper proprietors have attempted it, and I am glad to say that they have been severely repulsed in the process.
Reference has been made to the weight of advertising. That is a force, but the most powerful force is the readership of the newspapers. People vote with their pennies each day and decide which newspapers will be sold and how.
I want to address myself to the relationship of trade unions in controlling the content of the material that goes into newspapers. I am concerned, and I believe that my concern is widely shared, that those organisations are developing into instruments of political power as opposed to industrial power.
I welcome the attitudes of industrial power and their position to negotiate for those they represent. That is a fine and excellent thing. We have to find new instruments to make the best possible use of those institutions and regulations. There is much to which we can address ourselves, but the presentation of material in newspapers is a different matter.
Improper pressure has been referred to in the debate. When pressure is exerted by sanctions, fines, expulsion or a withdrawal of labour, we have to think seriously about those sanctions in our capacity as trustees and guardians of freedom in this country. We all share that obligation. It is not a matter of party politics; it is an issue in which we have joint and mutual responsibility. We have to guard that jealously and with every great care.
We have the capacity in this House to do that, but we shall not do it by ignoring the problem or pretending that it does not exist. Some of the problems are realities, and I should like to refer to one problem and to urge that the trade union movement should attempt to redress it. It is not necessarily a problem that can be dealt with on a legislative basis, but it can be dealt with by persuasion, by information and by those inside the industry seeking to put right something that I believe is wrong.
Some constituents who were members of the NGA came to see me because they were extremely concerned about 872 some of the things they were being asked to do as a result of a joint circular that had been issued. One constituent wrote to me:There are widespread views on the racial problems in this country but for Trade Unions to say that they will not allow anything to be printed because they think it is prejudicial or biased is against all democracy. Come to that, don't all the unions appear to be antidemocratic these days? If the editors of newspapers have got to consult the unions concerned every time they want to print something concerning immigration and racial problems then it will be a sad day for the 'freedom of the press'.That is not my view, it is the view of a constituent.
I could read more, but I shall confine myself to just two other extracts. He went on:Even 'Readers Letters' will be omitted because of this embargo and one will be reading just what the two unions want us to read on the subjects concerned … I have held a full union card now for thirty one years, unions were worthwhile then at the start. But now as a lot of us know, they are only instruments of political power".This is the view of a member of a union and a long-term member of the Socialist Party. He goes on:Plus the fact that you now have to be a member of one of them to be able to have a job.I have discussed this matter with that constituent and some of his colleagues. They are genuinely and earnestly concerned. They are not seeking a stick to beat anyone, but their concern is that this is not on and they do not want to be part of such a scheme. There is no such problem in their organisation. I do not suggest that there has been action that we should consider, but it reflects the unease of many people who feel that the interests of democracy and the freedom of the Press are threatened.
The circular was issued on 11th January 1978. Several items in that circular illustrate the situation. It is not a figment of the imagination. The first part of the circular expresses views about racialism and other matters, the sentiments of which none of us would object to. It is a joint circular from the NUJ and the NGA. They reaffirm their total opposition to censorship and their belief that Press freedom must be conditioned by responsibility. They say that there should be acknowledgment by all media workers that Press freedom should not 873 be abused to slander a section of the community or to promote the evil of racialism.
Paragraph 6 contains a more ominous and serious matter. It states:The NUJ and NGA recognise the right of the Press to withhold its labour on grounds of conscience because employers are providing a platform for racialist propaganda.Who is to exercise that judgment? Who is to say that this material is of a racialist nature and that labour should be withdrawn? If that happens, the Press is stopped and the newspapers are not issued. That then becomes a political matter which could involve political timing. That action could occur during a General Election. One cannot say that it will be put right. A timetable is involved, and newspapers can be stopped in a particular area. I do not suggest that all the presses of the nation will be stopped, but that could happen in an area and a particular section of the industry could be brought to a halt. We shold not contemplate that possibility with ease.
A voluntary Press charter which merely indicates that it is important that we do not suppress information will not be sufficient. I do not claim to be an expert on industrial relations, but I am concerned that we have the freedom of expression.
The British Press is respected throughout the world. I do not share the view that we have a rotten, unstable and unsatisfactory Press. I have the greatest admiration for the journalists, editors and all those who produce our newspapers. They serve our nation well and the world recognises that, but we are moving into a new area of communications and activity. We must accommodate that in our legislation. We need more information and greater access to it. We want more freedom to express our views. Parliament cannot stand to one side.
Rule 2 in the NUJ handbook states:A member shall not act by commission or omission against the interests of the union or of the trade union movement.The code of practice states thata journalist shall not originate material which encourages discrimination on grounds of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation".There is a reference to the affairs of Southern Africa. We are developing a 874 code of censorship on information presented to the newspaper industry. I am sure that that is not a deliberate action, but that is the effect. It is likely to be utilised by a limited number in their own cause and interest. The vast majority who work in the newspaper industry will reject any form of sieving of what they wish to present.
The reality is there and we must be warned. We must be aware of the problem. The ordinary people do not expect us to leave the matter alone. They are also concerned. Moderate opinion asserts its view. We cannot allow extremists of any kind to take over and to demand action. The duty lies with the moderate people. This debate is the opportunity for presenting that view to the people.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
Since it appears that the Government Back Benchers have dried up on this important subject and have no further contribution to make, it is my pleasure to speak immediately after a constructive speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth).
I worked in this place for a number of years as a political correspondent and a member of the Lobby. It would be tempting for me to rise to the bait of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who attacked the Lobby institution and Lobby correspondents. Since that has nothing to do with the debate, I shall brush the temptation aside. If he imagines that the practice of political correspondents in gathering information in this building bears any resemblance to the obnoxious form of closed shop which he said that he joined when he was an education correspondent, he could not be worse informed.
If political correspondents relied on ministerial briefings for the news and stories that they gather, there would be precious little political news in our newspapers. My experience as a Lobby correspondent is that in political journalism every day is an exercise in investigatory journalism. Although I enjoy reading Private Eye as much as the hon. Member, he must not take every piece of gossip that he reads in that interesting journal as gospel.
875 I declare an interest. For many years I have been a member of the NUJ. Unlike the hon. Member for Lewisham, West I joined not because I had to but because I wanted to. Over recent years I have regretted seeing other members of my union relying on coercion rather than persuasion in order to strengthen the ranks of that trade union. I also declare an interest because I am under contract to a national newspaper.
The bulk of my years in journalism were spent in serving the regional Press, which is not without its problems. I do not believe that what the Secretary of State had to say about the Press charter will allay the many anxieties in the industry.
Rightly, today's debate has concentrated on the problems of Fleet Street because that is where the crisis is at its worst. At the moment, Fleet Street is a jungle where even the law of the jungle does not obtain. The beasts in it no longer kill off each other but slowly strangle themselves. Hon. Members have given examples which show how critical the situation is.
We have seen how small numbers of workers are able to halt the printing presses, costing our national newspapers millions of copies. I was very glad that the Secretary of State amended or qualified his comparison over days lost because there is no meaningful basis for comparison between Fleet Street and other industries. One hour lost at the critical point of the evening can mean the loss of the entire main edition. That loss can never be made up. Some industries are able after a strike or dispute to carry on meeting their orders. That is not so in Fleet Street. Once a day's print has been lost it can never be regained.
The most disturbing feature is that most of the recent disputes have been unofficial. Very often these days it is questionable whether the leaders particularly of some of the print unions have much control over their members.
As was illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), there are malpractices in Fleet Street, the kind of which would not be tolerated in almost any other industry. There are ghost workers, which is a mechanism by which one man collects two pay packets for allegedly doing two indentical jobs at the same time. 876 "Gordon Richards of Tattenham Corner" is apparently well known the length of Fleet Street. He has served in his time on most national newspapers and at times has worked simultaneously for two or three of them.
There is the abuse of so-called bingo nights where a man is given full pay but is nevertheless told to stay away from the place of work. There is the abuse of the concept of casual working. There are many casuals in Fleet Street who are so permanent as to be in pension schemes. I do not solely blame unions, nor, in all honesty, have most of my hon. Friends who have spoken this evening. Management bears a heavy responsibility. The situation is a product of boom years in the past when all sorts of easy mechanisms were sought to gain a march over one's competitors or when management gave in easily and quickly to a particular kind of blackmail knowing that it had the resources to do that when some of its competitors might not. Much of this is management's fault, and for that reason management today is living with its own legacy and is incapable of making many of the adjustments which are so badly required.
One of the virtues of a debate of this kind is that it helps to bring the situation out into the open. The initial speeches at least from the Labour side were highly constructive. Alas, the most recent speeches from those Benches have been nothing but an airing of the familiar resentments and persecution mania that elements on the Left have about our free British Press. Now, fortunately, those speeches seem to have dried up.
A debate such as this concentrates public attention on these issues. There are a number of things that the public should know. For example, many national newspapers would never appear on the breakfast table if management was not paying out what amounts to a kind of protection money to groups of workers in Fleet Street. The public should know that there is a real danger of well known papers ceasing production altogether. There is the danger, too, that over a period the remaining national newspapers will become much more of a luxury product and, in the process, being fewer in number much more vulnerable to monopoly control. Those in the industry should be fully aware, too, that before 877 this point is reached many managements will have to consider the possibility of printing outside London. Where would Fleet Street be then?
As a background to this, there is a whole new technology waiting to be developed for the benefit of the newspaper industry and its readers, new techniques enabling it to produce better and what should be cheaper newspapers. North America and Japan are years ahead of us in developing these processes and techniques. But, alas, all our current practices are a bar to these ever being developed in this country.
Let me quote an important point that the chief executive and managing director of Times Newspapers Ltd., Mr. Hussey, made in his recent letter to the unions. He said:It is not an exaggeration that almost the total working hours of our board and senior managers are now occupied with trying to prevent disputes, solving disputes, and repairing the damage they caused. Virtually no effort"—he means management effort—is going into improving the turnover and profitability of the company.So managements are now too overwhelmed by their problems with industrial relations and with getting out the next day's issue to take any of the long term decisions that are necessary for the future of a strong national Press.
What is the justification for a newspaper? What is the justification for Fleet Street at all? It is to provide a service for the readers. Yet in the first four months of this year 54 million copies have been lost. That means 54 million occasions on which a member of the public has not been able to buy the newspaper he or she wanted. What will be the effect of that not simply on the finances of Fleet Street but upon the readers and readership patterns? We heard earlier in the debate of the effect on the advertising industry.
A great deal of our commercial life depends not only upon advertisements but upon the information contained each day in the national Press. I can give an example not from the national Press but from one of the regional newspapers that I used to serve. There was a dispute lasting a few days which meant that undertakers in the city in question were facing 878 a dire crisis since nobody could be buried until the funerals had been properly announced in the local newspaper. The corpses were piling up.
That is not a very serious example, but large sections of our commercial life are dependent on advertisements and news of an industrial nature. When that ceases to appear the efficiency of those commercial enterprises is affected.
What will be the effect on readers if this pattern by which millions of copies are lost over a month or two continues? People will ask if there is any point in placing a regular order for a newspaper if that does not give some guarantee of regular delivery. If the pattern continues, I fear that there will be a pattern of diminishing reliance upon the printed word by a wide cross section of the public. That would be bad for everyone concerned with newspapers. Therefore, to the problems within Fleet Street must be added this threat of a diminishing market should these practices continue for much longer.
The conclusion from all this is that in Fleet Street there are many printers' devils—I use this old-fashioned term to describe the things that go wrong in the newspaper industry—and very few angels. I have acknowledged freely that management has a great deal of responsibility for this situation as a result of having connived in the past at various arrangements to keep the presses running at the supposed expense of opponents and competitors. In the long term, it has been at the expense of everybody. These problems are deep rooted in the history of Fleet Street.
The fact that earnings are now so high creates a great reluctance to change at all. This is one of the major barriers that we are up against. I am still convinced that it can be done, however. The Mirror group has shown that the task is by no means impossible. It has begun the process of getting rid of so-called casual jobs that have been such a bane to the industry. Other employers are now beginning to stand up and be counted in the face of some of the threats, particularly some of the disputes which are organised on an entirely unofficial basis. Some employers and managers in Fleet Street are beginning to dig in their heels, take a stand and state realities.
879 In this context, one must commend and applaud the statement agreed by Victor Matthews with the engineers at the Daily Express. In the statement it was asserted and accepted that the authority of the chief engineer, his deputy and overseers would be recognised at all levels and that the overseers must be allowed full freedom to carry out their duties. Here was a case of management insisting that it must be allowed to perform its proper functions. Management is beginning to defend its rights and indeed its necessity to manage newspapers if they are to survive.
When a debate of this kind is initiated, naturally the question is what is to be done and what are we telling the Government Front Bench to do. I would be the first to criticise the Government for their general pattern of trade union legislation and its spin-off effect on the current situation. I do not believe and would never say that the solution lies with the Government in such matters. The solution can lie only with the newspaper industry itself—both sides of it. ACAS may be able to help here and there, but I do not believe that subsidies should be given to keep particular newspapers in existence or that more generalised subsidies should be provided to enable Fleet Street to shed some of its manpower.
Fleet Street has got itself into this mess and it must get itself out of it. The great responsibility rests on managers and I hope that when management do stand up for the essential things in Fleet Street they will have the Government's full support and that there will not be any offorts to deride and knock them as if they were bad, old-fashioned employers.
Also, a great deal of responsibility falls on the shoulders of union leaders in getting the collective interest of all their members established among all the constituent parts. I would not underestimate the magnitude of the task. It is very easy to criticise management for poor industrial relations within newspapers. But let us also cast a critical eye upon the communications pattern within some trade unions and ask why some of these situations are allowed to come to a head before official union leadership takes an active part.
The tragedy is that the 1976 "Programme for Action" was rejected by 880 those working in the industry. This programme offered a great deal of hope for the industry. But the fact that it was rejected then does not mean that all its ideas and concepts have been lost or discarded. Since 1976 the situation has got worse and it gets worse daily. More newspapers are now near to death than in 1976. Are any more newspapers to die before common sense dawns, even within the small sub-groups within the Fleet Street unions? I hope not. The day we witness the funeral of Fleet Street it will be too late for any repentence.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the freedom of the Press is a public freedom. It is not the plaything of newspaper proprietors or the perk or prerogative of those working in the industry. Western European democracy means pluralism and diversity of viewpoint being put before the public, and the public knowing that what they read in print is the product of free minds, not constrained by exterior forces.
Like the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), I speak as a member of the National Union of Journalists, but I do not wish to speak from a factional or sectional viewpoint. What is wrong with the British Press is the story of British industry writ large. There has not been the investment required to take printing out of the Victorian age. There has been a blind funk on both sides in facing the fact that the new technology means that people are frightened by the threat of job loss. There is a lack of realism in coming to terms with the fact that photo printing means that new manning levels are necessary, as are new disputes procedures.
Some managements, against that background, have blown terribly hot one morning and gone frightened fast the next day. Decent trade union leaders have seen their own position eroded by factional groups with the power to close down everything, and all the time basic costs are going up and up.
That situation simply cannot go on. We are now close to a situation in which the British newspaper industry looks like committing hara-kiri. With almost 60 million copies lost since the start of this year, something will shortly have to give somewhere. The sad thing is that the 881 public divisions in the newspaper industry are the very mirror image of the divisions in this House. The Left-Right clash here reflects the management-union clash in Fleet Street.
For me at least Thatcherism as presented in some of the British newspapers means head-on confrontation with the trade unions. The Marxism of the far Left—waiting discreetly of course in the Labour wings this side of the General Election—means turning the United Kingdom into something like a Comecon country. The language of this House, in other words, is in itself the very negotiating language of Fleet Street.
Since there is no one on the Government Back Benches now, perhaps I can enlarge that point a little more than I had intended. For example, in Scottish terms, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) a couple of years ago criticised The Scotsman, the Scottish Daily Express and the Daily Record by saying:There is abysmal lack of proper editorial control.I know that Poujadism is the mood of the Tory Party in Scotland these days, but that in itself is an attempt to achieve a closed shop on the Tory side of the fence.
Likewise, on the Government side, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) chaired an internal Labour Party committee a few years ago whose remit wasto seek to develop the structures of democratic accountability"—whatever that means—and alsoto allow greater influence to be exercised by those who work in the media.By all the decent people in the Labour Party that will be intepreted reasonably, but for one or two of the Trotskyites who are moving in from the fringes it will be given a very different meaning, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) indicated. In terms of his own London freelance branch resolution, the hon. Gentleman talked of "capitalist control" and said:When the columns of the Press are open to the Labour Movement, we shall obviously reconsider the matter.That is frightening talk. That is almost the language of Czechoslovakia in 1947 and 1948. It is not the language of reasonable men.
882 Of course, the profoundly sad thing is that all reasonable people know that in this difficult Press situation we must pull together. Obviously, newspaper trade unionists have the same right to band together as any other industrial workers. Management has the absolute right to point out that its papers will go to the wall if tiny sectional groups continue to act like petty anarchists in Fleet Street.
So what do we do? First, the interests of management and unionists are broadly the same. The separate power of tiny chapels factionalised across Fleet Street is busting the papers and removing any real authority from the union bosses. For example, the 25 men who stopped The Observer last Sunday are destroying not just their own jobs but those of all their colleagues.
Therefore, there has to be an end to unofficial action. There has to be negotiation on a rapid and effective disputes procedure. There has to be general wage restructuring, based on the new technology, and there have to be efficient manning levels. This is not very pleasant but it is a straight fact of life.
Once that is achieved, of course, the fathers of chapels and the management can get on with their real business of negotiating and reconciling their own specific interests with the interests of the industry at large, with—I hope—workers participation.
Second, we have to look at the root of the problem in European terms. The freedom of expression, as contained in Article 10(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights,carriers with it duties and responsibilities".State intervention may be necessary in the United Kingdom to guarantee that freedom.
The Press, in a democratic society, discharges a public task. The State has obviously an essential interest in the continued operation, on an economically sound basis, of as many newspapers as possible. Naturally, there should be no interference with editorial control. The real problem therefore is how to put money into the pockets of the Press without putting the Press in the pockets of the politicians.
For that reason, I and my party favour assistance on a general rather than a selective basis. Despite the reservations 883 of the Royal Commission on the Press, it is time that we had another look at the possibility of an advertising revenue board to redistribute the profits of advertising, particularly in a small country such as Scotland. In that way, small newspapers of independent views can be kept in being, and, of course, some of the jobs pressure is thereby taken off the unions.
I should like to say a final word about the situation north of the border. It would be wrong for me, a member of the SNP. not to touch on this matter. Mr. Fred Johnston, the president of the Scottish Newspaper Proprietors Association, said last week:Loss of their separate Scots identity has made trade union leaders north of the border less aware of their responsibility than they were in the pastThat is broadly true. It is equally true of course of management in Scotland.
The majority of our national dailies—using the word "national" in the Scottish sense—are now controlled out of Fleet Street.
I do not want particularly to labour this point, but there are only two courses that a nationalist can follow. One is the course followed by De Valéra in Ireland, who insisted that English papers appearing in the Republic contained, at the risk of prosecution, no reference to contraception or abortion. Those words had to be expurgated before the newspapers crossed the Irish Sea. Indeed, as a young journalist sitting in Manchester I knew the great sweat involved in resetting type to accommodate that diktat. It was nothing to do with morals. It was simply to do with English papers thereby becoming economically unviable and the building up of a native Irish Press. I should not, in Scottish terms, want to go down that road.
I think that in Scotland we should look alternatively at the sort of generalised Press assistance of which I have spoken. I regard that as more appropriate for small countries. I think that it would be useful to have such help for small publications such as M Publications of Arbroath, whose journalists—there are about 15 of them—during the past week have refused to accept redundancy, who have been backed by the NEC of the NUJ, and who are carrying on producing their own local newspapers.
884 My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh) has fought long and hard for those journalists. The Minister of State for the Scottish Office has expressed his concern, and perhaps the Government Front Bench, if the Scottish Office has informed it of this problem, can say tonight whether the Government can do anything for those journalists in M Publications of Arbroath. Those of us on the SNP Bench who have repeatedly raised the matter hope that they both can and will.
At the end of the day the freedom of the Press—by which I mean the free publication of genuinely alternative points of view—is every bit as important in Arbroath, in Forfar, in Carnoustie and in Kirriemuir as it is in Fleet Street.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I liked that last remark of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), who speaks solitarily for his party tonight, but he is not alone in being solitary, if that is not a joke. I liked the hon. Gentleman's reference to the fact that we need, and will always need, within the United Kingdom—I hope that the hon. Gentleman is thinking in terms of the United Kingdom—the individual expression of view in the regional parts of the kingdom. I should have thought of Scotland as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given us this extra dimension which those of us who do not live in Scotland and do not know it so well may not realise. It was good to hear from the hon. Gentleman that there are other parts of the country where it is essential to have this freedom of expression of a regional view. I applaud the hon. Gentleman and would always defend that viewpoint.
I have always hoped that the time would come that, having risen to my feet in this place and being somewhat daunted by the crowds of empty Benches opposite, after I had been on my feet for a little while those Benches would gradually fill up, and after I had been on my feet for 10 minutes they would be completely filled. That moment has yet to arrive. I know that Members who are crowding the Committee Rooms at this moment and those in other places where they have to be at this very hour are looking 885 anxiously at the annunciator screen to see who is speaking. I hope that I have learnt the lesson from the great David Lloyd George that one must say nothing for the first 10 minutes, because that will bring in the Members, and one then makes one's points when the place has filled up.
I do not want to dismay my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition, or the Secretary of State. I want to get straight down to the point. I believe that, notwithstanding the emptiness of the Benches as we near the end of the day, this has been an important debate. If the emptiness of the Chamber demonstrates that perhaps the debate is not important to us, that is not a matter of such great consequence. What is important is that the sickness that we are discussing in one of our great industries—the newspaper industry—is one of the most serious things that we have to face today in our free democratic society. There is something sick in the state of this country. There is something wrong in the state of Britain today. It exists not only in Fleet Street but in the newspaper publishing industry.
I have a great concern about what appears to be a death wish by some of those who work in the industry. Is it a conscious death wish or is it something unconscious that prompts people to rush like lemmings to the edge of the cliff until it is too late to stop?
I have never been in the newspaper industry. I have never been a journalist, although I have at times had articles published. I was concerned in another side of the industry, in advertising, but I no longer am. At one time I was the controller of a large amount of advertising. That was my first glimpse of the industry, through the commercial side.
But I am misleading the House. My first glimpse of the industry was when, as a small boy, I learnt to read and saw my first newspaper. I realised that a newspaper was something I would live with for the rest of my life and would long and hope never to be denied. I hoped that I should never be denied the great opportunity, which we take for granted, of having the free and unfettered expression of views delivered to our doorstep or bought off the street. This is a precious 886 freedom, and I pray God that we never lose it.
I do not exaggerate when I say that if democracy were to weaken in this country I should be prepared to see this place decline before the decline of the free Press in Britain. Parliament would always emerge again, but I should not be so sure of the re-emergence of a free Press once it had died. Parliaments would emerge. There could be a one-party State system. That would not be freedom. A free Press would never be allowed to emerge again under such a system if—God forbid—it ever trespassed on to our splendid freedom.
I said that my introduction to the industry was when I learnt to read. It was only later that I learn what a remarkable miracle happened every day with the production of a daily newspaper. This achievement mirrors almost every aspect of life that is seen and picked up around the world and delivered to our breakfast tables or bought for reading on our commuter trains or at our place of work, in the canteen or wherever. Every day is a new day. Every day is different.
The industry depends on an input—a loathsome word—on the concentration of people's minds, skills and professionalism as journalists—as feature writers, sub-editors, news editors, features editors, editors themselves—printers, typesetters in all their special categories of very high skill, using or not using new techniques, delivery men and men selling the papers at the news kiosk or the news stand.
Let us not forget that the newspaper industry is the whole panoply of those people, from the owner at the top down to the newsman whom one has got to know over so many years at the corner of the street, in sunshine or in rain. This is the miracle, and it happens every day. It is a precious freedom, and we must never lose it.
As I have said, the industry calls for great skills in all those various disciplines. But it is not enough to have hard work, good management, professionalism and skill. Above all, it demands that all these people be brought together as a great team, right down to the boy who sells the newspaper in the street, who is prepared to collect it from the van as it whizzes by, with a hundred copies of the morning or evening paper being thrown 887 out to serve the public with the news of the day from around the world.
It calls for team work. But that is what seems to be lacking. It was that point that I put to the Prime Minister at Question time today when I asked him whether he had some response to make to the innovative and imaginative phrase put forward by the president of the CBI earlier this week—that it is the intention on the employers' side at least to get rid of that awful phrase "the two sides of industry" and to proceed instead to speak of a team working together to achieve the common end.
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friend and I have constituencies in the same part of Kent. Does he not agree that the local newspapers which serve us so well in East Kent—the East Kent Times, the Thanet Times, the Kent Messenger and others—have the team spirit to which he is referring and that it is shown by the enthusiasm with which members of the staff will take over one another's jobs at short notice? Surely there is a lesson there for Fleet Street, where there are such sharp demarcation lines and unrealistic attitudes to co-operation and team work.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful for that intervention, because it should not go unsaid that there is team work. I have seen it as an observer from outside. I have seen it on these local newspapers which we as politicians get to know, which at times we get to love as well as to fear.
But I have seen something else as well as team work, something else that is lacking in Fleet Street and the other great centres of national publications. I have seen the most modern equipment and the most modern techniques in typesetting in the small presses that produce our local weekly and twice-weekly newspapers. I toured my own local Press only the other day. The owner proudly told me that in his opinion the Daily Express was not yet able to run, because of limitations, machinery and techniques which are so modern and so advanced.
I went over the great press in Cairo of Al Ahram some two or three years ago. I saw there the most modern machinery at work with the most modern techniques, without, of course, the 888 restraints put on by what I would call the fragmented units within the labour force which are holding things back, unfortunately, in Fleet Street.
I am very concerned about the lack of team work. I do not think that it is a lack of team work between management and the unions and their general secretaries. As the Minister of State knows, I have always sought, in my years in this House, to produce a better understanding, a better harmony, between management and the official unions and their separate tiers of organisation. Where we are seeing this lack of team work is, in my opinion, between management and men on the shop floor in the newspaper industry.
Is there this lack of team work at that stage and at that level in those areas because the conditions of work are so unsatisfactory, because the pay is inadequate? I would say "No". We know that that is not the case. The unions themselves can tell us that that is not the answer. I suggest that it is due in part, and only in part, to the vulnerability of management and owners of our great national newspapers.
They are vulnerable. They produce this miracle every day. They lose a great deal of money, and a great deal is at stake, if they do not produce it. They are held over a barrel. They can so easily respond if a gun is pointed at their head. It does not need a genius to appreciate the vulnerability of the producer of a national newspaper—and, of course, it is not one man, it is that whole team that is vulnerable. It is everyone's job that is at stake.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) spoke about militancy in the industry. He said it had been shown that militancy paid off. We have seen this, and we all regret it, on each side of the House. What sort of militancy is this? I was terribly shocked and disturbed to read the leader in The Times this morning in which it was stated that in four months this year 55 million copies of our great national newspapers have been lost. That is one for every person in this country. Why? As that very important leader statesfragmented loyalties allow each of a number of small minorities to stop the presses, without consulting their unions or their workmates, and entitle them to call on everyone 889 else to respect their right to stop the whole undertaking.There is not much teamwork there. As The Times says, "That is anarchy".
We do not need reminding what anarchy is. We should be students of it. We should be studiously on guard for any sign of anarchy showing itself anywhere in our society. As The Times goes on to state,it is the anarchy of the separate power of small groups in precisely the same way as the Wars of the Roses were the anarchy of separate and petty powers. Throughout history such anarchic structures have always proved disastrous.
§ Mr. Madden
I am sure that many of us would agree with the main burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but would he not also accept that there are responsibilities on management which are equally important? Does he not remember the closure of the News Chronicle? Journalists came into the newsroom very late at night to find messages on their typewriters telling them that the management was very sorry but there would be no News Chronicle next day and they had lost their jobs.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am developing my speech and I shall certainly be referring to management responsibility, and even to management deficiency. Nothing depressed me more than what went wrong with the News Chronicle. I had started with the old Daily Mirror and progressed to the old Daily Telegraph. In my formative years, as many of my hon. Friends must know, it was the News Chronicle which shaped my first thoughts in politics. That is not strange, I am sure. Of course, my thoughts have been shaped and reshaped and go on being shaped all the time. I am an avid reader of newspapers. My wife has often criticised me for having newsprint running through my veins. We can be criticised for many things by our wives, but that is when a politician is in perhaps one of his less alternative moods.
Newspapers cannot afford to stand up for long to unreasonable demands. They cannot stop publishing for long, because they lose too much money. There is always the spectre of ceasing publication altogether. One of the greatest tragedies in modern industrial societies is the death of a newspaper.
890 When I used to visit the United States of America regularly, I went to New York more than to any other city and the paper that I loved best of all in the United States was the New York Herald-Tribune. It died. It is published today in Europe, it is true, and it is still a good newspaper, beautifully made up and very readable. It is delightful reading. It is serious, it is fun to read, it is beautifully presented and altogether very professional. But it died. It was killed. It died at the hands of those who in America seem to have a death wish.
I am worried now about The Observer. We must not let The Observer go down. There should be a clarion call, not just from this House but from Fleet Street itself, that The Observer must be sustained. It cannot fall back on great television interests or other great daily newspaper interests to sustain it. It has no other great publishing strengths. It stands on its own. It has always been on its own. It is significant, distinct and different—also irritating at times—and it must not be allowed to die.
What happens when there is the death of a newspaper? It is not a question of the owners retiring to Monte Carlo for a good life and doing nothing. It means a loss of jobs to all concerned, to journalists, printers, salesmen, managers and everyone. Above all, it means the loss of an opportunity for our freedom of expression. I believe that such a loss would be the greatest loss which society could sustain.
A flourishing newspaper industry is the healthy heart of democracy itself. The free Press can succeed only so long as it flourishes. We can talk of a free Press or of the freedom of expression, but that expression has to be seen and read across the length and breadth of the country. We must do everything we can to prevent this industry from moving into a decline. I fear that there are too many signs that that is just what is happening. It is happening not only in Britain but in France and other countries on the Continent as well as in the United States of America.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), as he has so often done, gave the right note to this debate. He expressed a responsible warning and a concern rather than rash criticism and ill-thought-out views. We should be grateful to him. My right hon. Friend's mood 891 was echoed by the Secretary of State, and we should be grateful to him as well. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has sought to dampen the fires that seem to be starting up in Fleet Street and elsewhere. Almost everyone has sought to put out those fires rather than to fan the flames. Hon. Members have sought to be constructive in order that the industry can have a chance to put itself right. My hon Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) spoke as one of the professionals about whom I am talking. As he rightly said, it is a question of "Physician heal thyself". Fleet Street in general terms—Fleet Street in Aberdeen, Forfar or wherever—must heal itself.
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) reminded me that I had not said something about management. I am one of those who have never ceased to criticise management for not being sufficiently professional about the very business of managing men and women. They are the most important commodity in industry. When something is wrong, it is the duty of management to know why it is wrong and to resolve it by team work. Management must manage right down the line. It must know what is going on at the very lowest level of management. It must know what is upsetting a man at any stage.
Of course, if management comes across anarchy in any form—unconsidered anarchy or anarchy by error and mistake, as distinct from anarchy by intent—it must be strong enough to deal with it. Above all, this industry needs strong management. It is not enough for the industry to think that it can get away with flabby management. That will not help the industry, either the owners or all those who work in it.
I have worked in industry for a long time. I have done so, in the words of that dreadful phrase, on both sides of the shop floor. I did so not to learn the trade but to earn my living. It is a very salutary experience to learn what it is like to be managed. I am a great believer in going through the ranks and getting promoted only because one has the necessary ability. I am a great believer in that, because when one goes up the line a bit in management one knows the pressures, anxieties, concerns and dismays that 892 people may feel lower down. Only by knowing them can one put them right.
As I tried to say to the Prime Minister this afternoon, there are no longer two sides of industry. There is a total responsibility. The whole team is involved.
In the newspaper industry there is much to be done. We should wish the team well. If, however, any message—that phrase has been used—has to go out from this place, we should be saying to this industry "You, the newspaper publishing industry, are one of the most vital cores, the centre, of democracy itself. We will do everything to sustain you. Let the public sustain you too. But you should show, too, that by your good management on the employers' side, and good management, too, on the union side, you can heal yourselves while there is still time."
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
Perhaps I should start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) on being the only Labour Back Bencher who has made a speech in the debate and who has bothered to stay around for the end of the debate. It is a great credit to him that he has done that.
Perhaps there is need for some explanation why the Opposition decided to ask for this debate today. It is not because we expect the Government to take some great initiative or, indeed, that we think that there is any very direct ministerial responsibility or ministerial action which can do much about the situation that has been analysed in so many speeches today but because we believe that the situation now is at least frightening enough to deserve to be debated in the House of Commons. Indeed, we would have hoped that more hon. Members would think it important enough to take part in or at least listen to the debate. There can be no doubt that the situation is alarming.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) talked about the number of newspapers that have died. Other newspapers will die unless a solution to the present industrial disputes can be found. Every time a newspaper dies, there is never simply a straight transfer of readership to another newspaper. There is a diminution in the total readership of newspapers. What is worse, one loses the 893 variety of choice for the reader, the variety of type of newspaper, of policy and of editorial style, which made the British Press among the best in the world.
We do not expect that the Government, by themselves, can do anything to improve the situation, but we believe that the members of the Government and members of the Labour Party have some contacts in the union movement and have some influence on the union leadership which might enable them to be helpful. Clearly, among the leadership of the major unions there is no lack of willingness to be helpful at this time. It is not among the leaders of the great unions that the trouble lies.
One has only to look at some of the reactions of the union leaders to the demarche by Times Newspapers Limited a few weeks ago. Let us take just a few of them.
Mr. William Keys, general secretary of SOGAT, who is also the chairman of the TUC printing industries committee, said:There is no doubt that industry cannot support the losses much longer and there is a dangerous challenge from other media.I welcome this move by Times Newspapers if it is a catalyst to bring order into Fleet Street.Mr. Owen O'Brien, the general secretary of NATSOPA, said:We must ask the silent majority of our members … to start to exert themselves before it is too late.Mr. Leslie Dickson, the president of the NGA, said:for our part we accept that there has to be change in the face of threats from the rest of the media. It is time something was done about Fleet Street and we are all opposed to unofficial stoppages.There is no lack of good will and moderation among the top leadership of the great unions in the industry. As has been said, they have lost, to a great extent, control of their rank and file membership. That membership has become so fragmented in our great newspapers that it is now possible for 10 men to hold up a complete issue of a newspaper and to produce a dispute that may lose more than one evening's copies.
We have already had the figures given to us for the number of copies that have been lost both in 1977 and, at an increasing rate, during the first four and a half months of 1978. I think that we would 894 all agree with the Secretary of State—the point was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley)—that management has a great deal to answer for in getting to the state of near anarchy with which we are now confronted.
The right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend and, I think, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that the worst influence has been the tendency of managements to make concessions in the face of industrial action in unofficial stoppages and to refuse to negotiate with the accredited leadership of the unions through the proper negotiation procedures. One of the results of that attitude was that unofficial stoppages and direct action appeared to produce results, and such action became the recognised method of procedure. To that extent, the influence and repute of the top union leaders were diminished. That influence has to be restored. We believe that the Government are in a position to do something that will be helpful.
The Secretary of State and hon. Members have said that a diminution of a number of competing unions is clearly necessary if we are to get some order into negotiations. There are two ways of doing that. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), who has some unofficial connection with the NGA, is not present to hear what I am about to say as regards SLADE and the SLADE Art Union.
If we are talking about union mergers, I hope that the way in which the NGA and SLADE have been proceeding towards their merger will be taken as an ugly warning, and that some influence may be brought to bear in favour of the members of the SLADE Art Union. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has said repeatedly in the House, they have been treated extraordinarily badly and, by any standards, denied nature justice.
As I think everybody who knows the industry is aware, the traditional SLADE trades, such as process engraving, are dying out in the face of new technologies. SLADE has little hold in the newspaper world. The new technologies are either passing it by or increasing the membership of the SLADE Art Union. The offices of 895 SLADE, having acquired, if that is the word, about 8,000 more members by press-gang methods, want to be able to present those members, who are equivalent to about £80,000 a year in subscriptions, to the NGA when the unions merge. But they have to do this before the SLADE Art Union succeeds in gaining over 50 per cent. of the total membership of SLADE. At the moment, it is about one-third. They appear to have no scruples about how they go about this. If this is to be an indication of the way in which mergers between unions are to be encouraged, it does not look a helpful precedent.
We have said before, and say again, that a Labour Government who believe in the trade union movement and should, and rightly do, cherish their reputation, ought to be able to exert their influence in a matter of this kind where not only are proper union procedures and even the law being called into question, but natural justice is being denied to many freelance workers who are more in line with the march of technology than some of the traditional SLADE members.
The economic problem facing Fleet Street has been graphically described by a number of hon. Members. There is no doubt about the real threat. I do not want to go over this ground again, but I want to deal with the question of the closed shop, political censorship and political sabotage. It is important that we should at least recognise that this is a threat not only to the freedom of the Press but to democracy and to many workers in the industry.
I know that it is easy to say that these threats are unreal and that they are improbable scares dreamt up by nervous Tories and even more nervous journalists. For example, the hon. Member for Sowerby made a great fuss about my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft's warning that it was possible, to put it no higher, that direct industrial action, organised by extremists for political motives, might be brought to bear against newspapers favourable to the Conservative cause at the time of a General Election. He said that that was a scare to get a good headline on the front page of the Sunday Express. But the management of The Sun, for example, has had certain experiences over the last 896 year or so which have led it to suppose that somebody—probably from outside—had it marked down as a possible victim.
The hon. Member for Putney talked about the difficulties of Labour Members in finding any newspaper which would support the Labour Party or its cause. He said that the Daily Herald, the News Chronicle and one or two Sunday newspapers had died. I noticed that he did not mention the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror which, because of their larger circulation, have probably been responsible for influencing more votes in the direction of the Labour Party than any other newspaper has influenced votes in the direction of the Conservative Party. It is probably true that the notorious Daily Mirror front page with theWhose Finger on the Trigger?headline and picture won the Labour Party the 1950 election, which is more than we are able to say for any newspaper on any occasion when the Conservative Party has won a General Election.
The fact that The Sun, which has taken a fairly robust anti-Socialist line recently, has now succeeded in overhauling the Daily Mirror in circulation has caused a certain amount of political alarm on the Left. The Sun lost 40 million copies last year and had lost 25 million copies—about 6 per cent. of its total—up to 8th May this year.
The Sun has had one or two peculiar experiences. On one occasion a large wholesaler was telephoned one evening and informed that The Sun would lose a number of copies that night and that certain warehouses would get no deliveries. The wholesaler rang the management of The Sun and asked whether this was true. The management truthfully replied that it knew of no dispute and that, as far as it knew, there would be a full print that night. But The Sun lost 85,000 copies that night and precisely the warehouses mentioned by the anonymous telephone caller failed to receive their deliveries.
It is well known in Fleet Street that on one occasion a member of the staff of The Sun newspaper found a spanner on a conveyor belt and got it off just before it caused many thousands of pounds worth of damage. The spanner was found not to fit and was not used on any 897 machine in The Sun building. One cannot wonder if newspapers at least begin to feel that somebody, for political rather than industrial reasons, is getting at them.
Political censorship has been coming to the fore in a number of cases in recent years to an extent that suggests that direct action against a newspaper which is favourably inclined to the Right is at least a possibility. The newspaper industry is not just another industry producing a product in a commercial way like any other manufacturing industry. It is the means of communication without which opinion, argument, political discussion and the freedom to express dissentient views or views which are unpopular with certain power groups cannot be continued.
This makes the freedom of access to the Press and the freedom of editors and journalists to act without coercion so important. One can think of the old days of the newspaper tycoons and the times when proprietorial pressures were brought to bear on editors and say that in a sense the Press has never been free. This is the wrong way to look at the matter.
I have been a newspaper editor. I never had any doubt about the proper editorial function of an editor. I knew before I accepted the job what was the general political stance and the general policy line of the proprietor of the newspaper. I did not have to take the job if I disagreed with the policy. If I had disagreed with it, I should not have taken the job. Having taken the job on those terms, it was clear that what went into the leader columns on any morning was my responsibility. I did not think it necessary to ring up a director or talk to the proprietor before I decided what to say about a particular political issue in a leader.
If an editor has pressures brought upon him that he regards as unsupportable, he can resign. In the past he would be unlucky if he did not find some other newspaper which would employ him. The danger that arises from the emerging closed shop is that people will find that the pressures come from other directions and that if those pressures are found to be unsupportable the individual will not be able to find a job anywhere in journalism where he can follow his profession. There have been cases of the NUJ blacking certain professional 898 journalists and bringing considerable pressure to bear on editors.
This has spread even beyond the Press. It is interesting, as a possible warning of what may happen, to look at the case of a Penguin publication. Penguin Books has never been regarded as a particularly Right-wing or reactionary organisation, but not long ago it decided to publish a paperback book by an Israeli soldier who took part in the Entebbe raid after the Palestinian hijack. The copy editors at Penguin, all NUJ members, refused to handle the copy of that book unless certain parts of it were deleted or a Palestinian representative was given space at the end of the book to state the anti-Israeli case. Penguin naturally refused, saying rightly that its contract with the author did not permit this. In the end, a non-NUJ copy editor had to be found to handle the book.
That was all right because Penguin managed to find someone, but if all newspapers and book publishing were in the hands of one union that was able to black publications, whether in journalism or books, free expression of opinion and access to opinion and information by the public would be seriously curtailed.
We shall never agree with the Secretary of State about the closed shop anywhere, but we believe that he has taken an excessively dégagé line about the dangers of a closed shop in journalism. We believe that the threat of the union post-entry closed shop in journalism is a very real one and that the threat has been brought very much nearer by legislation introduced by the Government. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Government, in the interests of the public and of democracy, to ensure that the least possible damage is done by that legislation by ensuring that ample safeguards are provided in newspapers, journalism and publishing.
We feel that we ought to press the right hon. Gentleman about the timing of the publication of the charter. From what he was able to tell us about the present area of agreement, we have some doubt whether it will provide adequate safeguards because the things that were omitted from what he said were much more important than what was included. It cannot be left very much longer. Some progress must be made, if not by agreement, at least through a lead given by 899 the Government. I was a little alarmed to find that the Secretary of State had apparently not addressed his mind to the question whether free access to the columns of newspapers would apply to art work as well as to written material. Members of the SLADE Art Union would very much like to know what safeguards will be provided for freelances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) was right when he said that Fleet Street has got itself into this mess and Fleet Street will have to get itself out of it. That is true. No direct intervention by the Government will solve this deep-seated malaise. The last thing that any hon. Member would want is direct financial intervention from the Government to bail out newspapers which have got themselves into difficulties.
§ Mr. Moonman
The hon. Member should not assume that there is that degree of unanimity in the House. The debate in the last five or six years has involved the circulation of newspapers. The matter to which he is referring was part of the evidence given by the Labour Party to the Royal Commission on the Press.
§ Mr. Maude
I am aware of that. But the dangers of Government subsidies to particular newspapers must be obvious. What is more dangerous than a subsidy to a particular newspaper? There would be a direct incentive to anyone who wanted a nationalised newspaper to achieve that by industrial action. That would bring more newspapers to the economic state in which they had to ask for subsidies in order to survive. This is a recipe not only for anarchy but for the corporate state. We have seen in the Scottish Daily Express what can happen through ill-considered attempts to support a basically non-viable undertaking which is made non-viable by the industrial action of the workers in it.
The possibility of increasing Government interference, whether directly through finance or indirectly through political pressure, is one of which the House should take notice. The words of the Lord President of the Council which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft quoted at the beginning of his 900 speech were undoubtedly true. In 1974 the right hon. Gentleman said:If such disputes were to persist in the way that some people forecast, they could drain away the life blood of democracy in this country."—[Official Report, 21st November 1974; Vol. 881. c. 153.]The disputes have proceeded in precisely the way that we forecast in 1974, and are producing the effect that the Lord President foresaw.
On the other hand, the Secretary of State for Energy, in his unregenerate days, gave a lead to political pressure in journalism which perhaps has been forgotten but which should be remembered. Speaking at a Labour Party conference in Blackpool in October 1972, in an exhortation to workers in the media, he said that theyshould remember that they too are members of our working class movement"—I like the words "working class movement" coming from the Secretary of State for Energy—and have a responsibility to see that what is said about us is true.We come to the fundamental nub of the whole problem when we talk about the dangers of political interference, censorship and industrial action for political purposes. Who is to decide what is true? Is it to be the International Socialists, the Socialist Workers Party or whatever splinter group happens to be in control of one small chapel in one newspaper at one particular time? Is it to be the editor or the proprietor? Of course, there will always be people who will say that what the proprietors decide to print or what the leader writer writes about the Labour Party or the Conservative Party is not true and not fair. If there were not people who said that at some time there would be something wrong with the Press as a whole.
If it is accepted that the printers, the journalists, the reporters and the subeditors have a right to halt a newspaper because they dislike what has been written in one particular article, at a particular time and in a particular issue and can at a moment's notice bring that newspaper to a halt, we are on the edge of anarchy. It will be impossible to have an efficient Press that will serve any party in this House that believes in democracy or serve the people of this country in the way that a free Press should.
901 We are entitled to ask for a clear statement from the Government tonight that neither the Government nor any of their members will ever give the slightest encouragement to the internal censorship of newspapers by direct industrial action for political purposes. We all ought unanimously to express our alarm at this trend and our determination that it shall never be allowed to succeed.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
On the whole we have had a serious, thoughtful and constructive debate. For the most part it has been marked by a real concern for the well-being of the Press. Speeches have been characterised by a frank and blunt expression of views, and the debate has been better and richer for that.
I hope that I do not offend the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) if I say that I found myself in agreement with much of what he said. I welcomed his sensible and restrained approach to these issues. His speech was in marked contrast to the more strident, provocative and bellicose comments of the Leader of the Opposition on industrial relations.
I cannot adopt the same attitude to the speech of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). I am sad that his contribution should have been characterised by so many smears and innuendoes, backed up by not a jot of evidence, designed to malign the workers in the newspaper industry—particularly The Sun. His lack of supporting evidence was an abuse of the debate.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman said that a spanner had been found on a machine. He went on to draw from that the conclusion that it had been deliberately placed there by some worker as an act of political sabotage. He has no right to draw that conclusion.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not doubt that there could have been a spanner on a machine, but to draw the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman drew is wholly unwarranted. 902 For him repeatedly to suggest that people in the newspaper industry are motivated—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman's speech was characterised by frequent suggestions that there were people in the newspaper industry who were motivated by political ideas and who deliberately aimed to sabotage the industry. He has no evidence to prove that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene to give us the evidence, I shall be happy to give way.
§ Mr. Maude
One does not require any evidence except the evidence from the management of the newspaper. That management said that a spanner was found on the production line. I did not say who put it there—in fact, there is considerable doubt about whether it was put there by a worker on The Sun staff. All I said was that when incidents of this kind occur the management of The Sun has every reason to believe that it is at risk.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member has made half a step back from what he said originally. I am content to leave it there and let the House and readers of Hansard draw their own conclusions.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) is not in his place. He must have misheard or misunderstood the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Member said he thought that my right hon. Friend said that this was a peculiar choice of subject. Actually, he said that it was an ironic choice of subject. He thought it was ironic that the newspapers which are so ready to tell us how to conduct our affairs, and so ready to tell industry what is wrong with it, should now be the subject of a debate exposing their own weaknesses and vulnerability. This point was also made by other hon. Members on both sides. It was made particularly well by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) when he said it was a case "Physician heal thyself".
This debate has centred on three main topics. The first has been the general state of industrial relations within the 903 newspaper industry in general and Fleet Street in particular. In view of all the declarations of interest that have been made tonight, I shall declare my tenuous interest in that I live in Fleet Street and have done so for some years.
The second issue has been the recruiting tactics of SLADE and the relationship between that organisation and its colony—the SLADE Art Union. The third issue has been the closed shop in journalism and the related matter of the Press charter, on which Conservative Members have tended to concentrate.
Before I deal with those three issues, there are some specific points on which I have been asked to comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) asked whether we would consider undertaking a wide-ranging review of the whole of the Press. The fact is that the industry has been analysed very thoroughly, and its ills have been diagnosed. We have had the ACAS report to the Royal Commission and the Royal Commission report itself. That was preceded by the thorough study of the National Board for Prices and Incomes.
The Government are studying the report of the Royal Commission and in due course we will respond. This debate will be helpful to the Government and to my Department particularly because we shall have to consider the parts of the report that affect industrial relations in the Press and the closed shop in particular.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I quite understand that the Government do not wish to go any further at this stage. I was simply trying to suggest that at some time in the future it would be worth while having a survey of the entire communications industry. However, I did not mean that it should be done immediately.
§ Mr. Walker
We shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. However, the repeated establishment of committees and commissions is all too often a way of facing up to the need for action. Very often this stands in the way of doing the necessary things to help the situation.
A great deal of anxiety has been expressed about The Observer dispute. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) 904 showed the enormous advantages of firsthand experience in the industry. He appealed to us to do all we could to ensure the publication and life of this great newspaper.
Unless the House wishes me to do so, I shall not go into the details of the dispute, except to say that it has been referred to the joint disputes procedure agreed with the Newspaper Publishers Association. But the NGA representatives have withdrawn. The union last week instructed the men to work normally. Because of their refusal, those men may now face disciplinary action by the NGA. The management has warned that it will close the paper unless it gets a union guarantee of uninterrupted production. Dismal though it is, the prospect for publication next Sunday, 21st May, is bleak. It is understood that, because of the unsettled position, no permanent printing staff are working and no copy is being produced for that issue.
At talks with the union yesterday, management repeated its threat to discontinue publication and to issue notices of termination unless there was normal working by the NGA men and said that there would be no special redundancy pay provisions. An emergency meeting of the NGA national council is to be held tomorrow.
We have been in touch with ACAS during the debate, and it has told us that it is making an offer to make its services available in the morning. We in the Department have had no direct approach from either the company or the unions, and I understand that up to this stage neither has ACAS. The House will readily understand the difficulty—that ACAS must, as we must, wait until invited before taking an initiative to be involved in the dispute.
In view of the talks tomorrow, it might be unwise for us to seek to intervene at this stage. However, I earnestly ask all the parties seriously to contemplate the grave consequences for the paper, for those who depend on it for their livelihood and for the newspaper industry if this conflict is allowed to degenerate further. Blood-letting is something that Fleet Street can no longer afford.
§ Mr. Moonman
My hon. Friend has given a great deal of information on this difficult industrial dispute and one does 905 not want to add too much at this late hour. Assuming, however, that the meeting tomorrow produces a positive response and that there is some hope there, would it not then be almost impossible, since no preparatory work has been done over the last two or three days, for The Observer to come out on Sunday? Can my hon. Friend say whether even a reduced edition might be possible, assuming that some agreement is reached by a reasonable hour—say, mid-afternoon or even early evening—tomorrow?
§ Mr. Walker
I cannot do that. I have said that no copy is being prepared, so the prospect is bleak. But, speaking purely for myself—I think that I would reflect the feelings of many of its regular readers—I would say that, if The Observer were able to rush out a truncated edition on Sunday, I am sure its readers would respond and would seek to support the newspaper and thereby those whose livelihoods depend on it.
Having dealt, I hope, with specific points, I should like to come on to more general issues—first, industrial relations in this area. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) rightly said, the ills of this industry have been pretty thoroughly diagnosed. When he commented on the NPA—echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon—I quickly made a note of one point which up to then seemed to have been overlooked—that in Fleet Street collective bargaining suffers from not being collective enough.
On the one side we have too many unions. When new technology is replacing old skills and gobbling up jobs, the plurality of unions will inevitably cause competition for the available jobs and lead to conflict and friction. There is a powerful case now for the unions to seek to eliminate conflict between them by moving more closely together.
Equally, the employers, as we have seen and as I have learnt while conducting discussions in trying to evolve a Press charter, are unable to speak with a common voice. They behave in a dog-eats-dog fashion. But those matters were touched on, either directly or indirectly in the ACAS report, and I hope that the industry will take full account of the criticisms which, understandably and 906 rightly, have been expressed on that score during today's debate.
I said that hon. Members concentrated upon three issues during the debate. The second one is the vexed question of SLADE. We debated this matter fully in June of last year. I doubt whether I can usefully add to what I said then, but for the sake of getting it on the record in this debate I shall, if the House will forgive me, repeat what I said.
We had been talking about the closed shop, and I said:We must have regard for the views of the majority as well as those of the minority. If the majority in an establishment wants to work in a 100 per cent. closed shop, that must be weighed against the views of dissenting individuals.I went on to say, I think that this is as relevant and appropriate now as it was then:However, to attempt through external pressure to impose closed shop agreements on establishments in which the great bulk of the work force does not wish to join the union in question, and still less to be subject to a closed shop agreement, is a different matter.Throughout all my years in the trade union movement, many of them served as a shop steward, I have always believed that for the overwhelming majority of workers the case for trade union membership was so compelling as to need no coercion. Persuasion and explanation of the benefits and obligations of membership are much more likely to bring the laggards into effective and positive participation in a union than any amount of stick. However, that implies the opportunity to persuade, and access, which is recognised in SLADE's Executive Committee declaration.I went on to quote Geoffrey Goodman, the industrial editor of the Daily Mirror, who had said that same day:The union case should always stand on its own feet. It should be achieved by persuasion. Though that persuasion has to be based on an equal right and power to be able to persuade.I shared that view then, and I do now.
I went on to say:I hope that SLADE will be prepared to consider a more tolerant and patient approach to the recruitment of new members in the advertising and publishing industries. In saying that, I am sure that I reflect the view of the TUC."—[Official Report, 29th June 1977; Vol. 934, c. 478–9.]I am confident that that view is still held by the TUC, and I very much hope that SLADE will take full account of the criticisms that have justly been levelled 907 at it. I do not agree with the intemperate way in which some of the criticisms have been made, but I think that the House will agree with the generality of the criticisms.
I was asked whether ACAS had been involved in the SLADE dispute. I understand that there has been some degree of involvement, but only in situations where SLADE's activities have given rise to difficulties. It would be difficult for ACAS to be involved in the general situation. The Service can become involved only when it is so asked by the parties, but I am sure that its services will, as always, be available if it is called upon to provide them.
§ Mr. Prior
One of the problems is that the SLADE Art Union members, of whom there are about 9,000, are effectively disfranchised. It must mean that the union rules are ineffective if about one-third of the union can be disfranchised in this way. Have the Government no powers to call for an inquiry into union rules in cases such as this? It is not good enough for members of the Government to make speeches and to take no action in a case where people are being badly treated and the union movement is being brought into disrepute.
§ Mr. Walker
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the effect on the credibility and good name of the trade union movement. As a trade unionist, I am anxious that something should be done about this. But I must not mislead the right hon. Gentleman or the House. I am sure he knows that we have no powers at present in respect of a trade union's rules. At least, I doubt it. What we can do is to ensure that the views which have been expressed are made known to the TUC.
More than one hon. Member, including, I think, the right hon. Gentleman, suggested that because of our historic and close relationship with the TUC the Government might be in a position to talk to it. I am not sure that we should ever find ourselves getting into a position of trying to lean on the unions, but I shall be seeking to convey the anxieties which have been expressed on both sides of the House about the position.
In the limited time that is left I come to the main issue, one that we have discussed 908 before but to which we shall be returning again in the fullness of time—the vexed issue of the closed shop in journalism and the Press charter. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked me to say something about the timetable and the progress on the production of the Press charter. He said that the length of time that had elapsed so far was a matter for concern.
The provision for the charter appears in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976. It allowed 12 months for the parties interested and involved to draw up a charter voluntarily. It also provided that if by March 1977 they had not been able to agree a charter the duty should devolve on the Secretary of State. While the parties to what became known as the Pearce talks were able to agree on some matters, they were not able to agree on others. Therefore, the responsibility is now with my right hon. Friend.
But it seemed to us appropriate at the time to delay the consultation that we are required by the statute to undertake until the parties and we had the benefit of the Royal Commission's report. It was known that the Royal Commission would be making its own comments on the matter. We delayed action until it had reported, though we did not entirely stand still.
The Royal Commission reported in June and from then on, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I have been involved in a lengthy series of consultations. Since then I have had 21 meetings with individuals and groups representative of the various interests. There have been difficulties about fitting them into their programme.
I shall not weary the House by going through the list, except to repeat that my task would have been made a little easier if the Fleet Street employers had been able to speak with a single voice through, for example, the NPA rather than having to come separately and severally, as they have done. Some would not come at all, saying that they wished to have nothing to do with a Press charter.
We have completed the round of consultations. I have now reported to my right hon. Friend, and in the light of his response to my report we shall now seek meetings with the TUC and the CBI. 909 I think that the House would consider it right that we should have further consultation with them preparatory to having the meeting that we are required by the Act to have with the Press Council. In the light of what emerges from there, we may then wish, before coming to the House with our draft, to have further consultation with the principal parties in the industry, such as the NUJ, the Newspaper Society and the Press Council.
I hope that that is felt by the right hon. Gentleman and the House to be something by way of a progress report. Any idea that we are deliberately dragging our feet and avoiding bringing a Press charter before the House is mistaken. My right hon. Friend has every intention of bringing a draft Press charter before the House.
I turn briefly to one or two of the provisions which have been agreed upon by the parties and which, therefore, the Act will require my right hon. Friend to seek to give expression to in the charter when he lays it before the House. I do so because the hon. Member for Lewes seemed to misunderstand what my right hon. Friend was saying about some of the matters that have been the subject of agreement by all the parties.
It seems to me that the matters that have been agreed would of themselves provide for the charter the foundations that we should all welcome. For example, all the parties at the Pearce talks have agreed that the Press should be free from the exercise of any improper pressure. I will read the passage:The parties to this charter pledge themselves to abstain from the exercise of any improper pressure and to resist such improper pressure from any quarter, internal or external. Any action or threat of whatever kind from whatever quarter calculated to induce an editor to distort news, comment or criticism, or, contrary to his or her judgment, to publish or to suppress or to modify news, comment or criticism shall be deemed ipso facto to be improper pressure.I am laying emphasis on these articles because it seems to me that in them we have the safeguards sought by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. If his fears are justified that these attempts at political sabotage and political pressure are latent and likely to become stronger in the future, and, therefore, he wants to safeguard the freedom of the Press in these respects, the provision is there.
910 I shall not go further and read other passages that bolster my case.
What I am concerned about is that the Conservative Opposition want to follow their ideological obsession, so damaging to them in the past, with the banning of the closed shop. They are or may well be throwing away, according to whatever provision we may bring before the House, these essential safeguards.
We say that it would be inequitable to deny to one group of workers the industrial strength that will be accorded to others in the right to pursue a closed shop. We are neutral, but we say that it would be wrong and foolish, in the light of historical experience, to try to deny to groups of workers their right to pursue a higher degree of organisation that would strengthen them in their negotiations with their employers. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft and others, notwithstanding their experience of the consequences of trying to do this in the past, are seeking to do it again for this one group of workers. But the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon says "We want it to apply not only to journalists, which is what the Act requires, but to SLADE as well". But, if it applies to SLADE, does the hon. Gentleman want to apply it to the print unions also?
§ Mr. Walker
Does the hon. Gentleman want—because this is the logic—therefore, first, the journalists, next SLADE, next the print unions, next the engineers and next the electricians? Once having tried to say to the electricians and the engineers in one industry that they cannot have a closed shop, how could the Opposition logically permit it to another? The Opposition are seeking to put the clock back to the disastrous situation of 1971, which in 1972 led to the loss of 24 million working days because of strikes.
§ Mr. Walker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, but it is two minutes to 10.
The last thing I want to do is to seek to defend or condone the actions of those who seem to me to be the kamikaze minority of militants. It seems to me that the blood spilt from self-inflicted wounds in Fleet Street spills on to all those who 911 depend for their livelihood on this industy and on to the people of our society, which is culturally, socially and economically dependent on having vigorous, lively and flourishing Press. Such is our dependence in the twentieth century that a malaise in the newspaper industry soon becomes a malady of sickness of society as a whole.
The Press charter will be proceeded with as speedily as possible, but it will be speed consistent with the need to get the maximum consensus, at the same time consistent with the equitable application of the industrial relations philosophy of the Goverment and the provisions of the parent statute.
I hope that management and the unions will seek to make the maximum 912 use of the powers we have and the machinery of ACAS, and that all the parties will seek eagerly the application of the recommendations of the ACAS report to the Royal Commission, in particular those contained in the programme of action of the joint standing committee to which reference has been made in the debate.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.