HL Deb 16 July 1959 vol 218 cc75-7

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what rights the public, the newspapers and broadcasting organisations have to attend and report upon the proceedings of local authorities; and whether those rights are adequate and are observed.]


My Lords, there are certain statutory provisions which bear upon this point. The chief of these are contained in the Local Authorities (Admission of the Press to Meetings) Act, 1908, which gives representatives of the Press the right to attend the meetings of local authorities and also the meetings of education committees which act with delegated powers. The Press may be temporarily excluded from these meetings by specific resolution, however, if in the opinion of a majority of the members present at the meeting the special nature of the business makes it advisable in the public interest to do so.

Over and above the statutory obligations it is clearly in the public interest that all local authorities should keep their electors informed about the actions taken in their name and the reasons for those actions, and there is no doubt that the great majority of local authorities have a proper sense of responsibility in this matter. However, as a result of representations made to him, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has in recent months been discussing the matter generally with the associations which represent local authorities in England and Wales. His intention is to secure that all local authorities give proper facilities to the Press and the public, and he has stated to Parliament that the Government would not hesitate to advise an amendment of the law, if it proves to be necessary.

My right honourable friend feels sure that the statutory rights of the Press are observed by local authorities generally. Certain councils, however, have recently excluded the Press from their discussions for reasons connected with the present dispute in the printing industry. He cannot pronounce on the legality of these actions, as that is a matter for the courts. But he has indicated in another place, on the 6th of this month, that he strongly deprecates the action of any local authority which excludes the Press and the public for any reason save that the nature of the business requires it to be considered in private.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that satisfactory reaffirmation of the Government's view, may I ask whether, having regard to the possibility that any legislation may be delayed for some time. it would not be a good thing if the Leaders of all Parties in this House were to make as strong a statement as the noble Earl has made?


My Lords, I should think it would be most advisable for everybody to agree, as I hope noble Lords do, with the statement that has been made to-day.


My Lords, if we have an opportunity, we will make it.