HC Deb 10 May 1993 vol 224 cc481-2
4. Mr. O'Hara

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he next plans to meet representatives of the newspaper industry to discuss freedom of the press.

Mr. Brooke

I met the chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance Limited on 9 March to discuss the newspaper industry's response to Sir David Calcutt's review of press self-regulation. I look forward to a future meeting with the board in due course.

Mr. O'Hara

Will the Secretary of State make it clear on the next occasion that he meets representatives of the press that the public will no longer tolerate chequebook journalism that destroys lives for the sake of the cheap, ephemeral headline and then moves on to the next headline, leaving shattered lives behind? Will he make it clear to them that they have failed lamentably in their paltry efforts to regulate themselves and that it is high time that they were subjected to external sanction and regulation?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman will have made his point to what is called Pressbof more vividly than any words that I could use. However, I join him in hoping that the press will continue to look at ways in which their methods of regulation can be improved.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate that a free press is a guarantee of our own freedom? Nazi Germany did not have a free press; South Africa did not have a free press. We are lucky to have a free press. Will my right hon. Friend reiterate that fact?

Mr. Brooke

I share my hon. Friend's support and acclaim of a free press. All hon. Members recognise that, although the press sometimes views the House with suspicion in case we should seek to encroach on its freedom, the responsibility for ensuring that we retain a free press, which I agree is one of the glories of our constitution, rests on the press itself.

Mr. Corbett

While the right hon. Gentleman is considering his response to the Calcutt and National Heritage Select Committee reports on press regulation, will he invite representatives of newspapers, magazines and broadcasting to talks about how the present laws, which inhibit press freedom, might be changed, and will he consider the threat of the concentration of ownership and cross-ownership of the media to the plurality of views and voices? In particular, will he now use powers contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990 to require Mr. Rupert Murdoch to choose between his ownership of BSkyB and five national newspapers?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman is correct in his description of the need for the Government to determine their response to Sir David Calcutt's report and the Select Committee report. I pay tribute to the comprehensiveness of the latter. Its comprehensiveness sets the Government a considerable task in responding to it. As we wish to observe due courtesies to the House and to the speed at which we respond, it might be a mistake to enlarge the agenda further, but the question that the hon. Gentleman asked remains under review.