§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF HERTFORD
My Lords, I had a telephone call yesterday from a newspaper which wanted to know why I was to speak in this particular debate after maintaining an unbroken silence for 23 years. I pointed out that when I inherited my title in 1940 I was not in a position to take a very active part in this House, because I was then only nine years old However, I took my seat in 1952, mainly because I heard a rumour that Peers who had not taken their seat might not be invited to the Coronation. It has taken me eleven years since then to summon up the courage 894 to address your Lordships, so I hope you will be indulgent.
I must confess that I have a personal interest in this debate. I work in Fleet Street myself, not for a newspaper, but for a public relations firm. That may give me an exaggerated idea of the value of the Press. Nevertheless, I really believe that a free Press is of fundamental importance to a democracy. I also believe that the freedom of the British Press is now threatened, not by any outside influences, but by its own internal financial weakness. It is not generally realised how very serious the situation is. A number of newspapers have recently ceased to exist. Some others are still losing money; and, sooner or later, a paper that is losing money is almost bound to close down. Last year Mr. Cecil King said—and I quote:Of the London dailies, the Sketch, the Herald and the Morning Advertiser are on the danger list. The Times and Daily Mail are under observation; the Mirror and Express are all right; the Telegraph and Financial Times are riding high."
Such a small number of newspapers clearly cannot be enough to represent an entirely free Press. What one can do about it is not easy to see, but the trouble is purely economic. So, if I may, I will just run through a few facts which your Lordships already probably know.
The revenue of newspapers comes principally from two sources, circulation and advertisements. As this country already has the highest newspaper readership in the world, the circulation of one newspaper group can be increased only at the expense of another; the total sales of newspapers cannot be increased much further. But advertisement revenue depends on circulation, because, of course, those newspapers with the highest circulation can charge the highest rates. So the bigger papers get richer and the smaller ones do not.
There are two main costs of producing a paper. Newsprint is an enormous basic cost, and the agreements with our fellow members of EFTA would not allow us to subsidise this cost, even if it were considered to be desirable, which is doubtful. The other main cost is printing. This could be enormously reduced; and if it were reduced many newspapers which are now in a most precarious situation would be given a new lease of life. Here I venture on to rather dangerous 895 ground. It is impossible to discuss the high cost of printing without mentioning the printing unions. There is a very general tendency, whenever a union and a management have failed to agree together, to blame the union. Without claiming to know all about it, and certainly without wishing to be in any way controversial, I must place a fair amount of blame on the management. Whoever is blamed, the fact remains that the lack of co-operation within the printing trade leads to inefficiency, waste of time and waste of money. It is standing in the way of progress; it is keeping the cost of printing unnecessarily high; and it will in time destroy the newspapers on which both management and union members depend.
Newspaper proprietors are in a peculiarly weak position to bargain with their trade union employees. A strike of a few days can do them an enormous amount of damage. A newspaper is an ephemeral product with a tenuous, continuous link between one day and the next. In this respect, its appeal is perishable, like fruit, and in that connection it is no coincidence that one place where the labour force is in a correspondingly strong position and where wages are correspondingly high, is Covent Garden Market. If a strike delays the production of motor cars the customers are, on the whole prepared to wait, and by producing more cars the manufacturers may, in time, make up their losses; but no one is going to buy last week's paper, or even yesterday's edition. So, for a newspaper—and I am speaking chiefly of the national daily newspapers—the cost of a wage increase is usually less at the time than the cost of not appearing for a few days. The unions have, understandably, taken advantage of this weakness, not only to ensure high wages but also, by forming a web of restrictive agreements, to keep the labour force quite unnecessarily high. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Press points out that as many as one-third of the men employed in producing the national newspapers are, in fact, redundant.
The worst result of this apparent inability of the managements and the unions to work together for the good of all is that control of the Press and of 896 the newsprint and the newspaper printing industries is already in the hands of a very few people; and these are likely to become fewer. It is not now possible for anyone other than the Daily Mirror Group to start a national daily newspaper. Surely, we must not let it become impossible for anyone else even to maintain such a paper. This, like so many other really important things, is not a Party political problem. It is one that the employers and the unions have completely failed to solve. This failure presents a real threat to the freedom, indeed to the existence, of the British Press as we now know it. May I suggest that this is something that calls for serious consideration by Peers on both sides of the House?
§ 4.37 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, it is very pleasant for me to have to congratulate the noble Marquess on his maiden speech. He spoke with great grace and style, and with an assurance which I personally envy. Also, he spoke good sense and, incidentally, removed a great deal of what I hoped to say myself. It is, too, nice to see a younger Member of your Lordships' House taking part in our discussions. I hope that, having broken the ice, he will continue. As has been pointed out before, we are an old House and are badly in need of new blood. There are four or five junior Lords (if I may use that phrase), clever and able young men, who, if they so wished, could come and talk to us. I am sure your Lordships would give them a real welcome. We still, perhaps, like to think that we are "with it", but I wonder very much whether we are—certainly I am not—and we should be all the better off for knowing from first hand what the young people are thinking and where we are going wrong.
Your Lordships may recall that some three years ago I had the honour of introducing to this House a Motion on the Press. I do not know whether the debate did much good, though immediately thereafter, which was not altogether a coincidence, the gossip columns cleaned themselves up. But at any rate, the debate enabled noble Lords to express, publicly and openly, their views about the newspapers; and that, surely, is something that cannot be done too often. Quite honestly, what impressed me most on the last occasion was the measure of praise 897 awarded to the Press, particularly by the most reverend Primate. His mantle has apparently been assumed to-day by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, who, I am glad to say, apparently has the same respect for British journalism and journalists as the Archbishop. These things help.
To-day, my Lords, we are back on the same subject. It will be interesting for us newspapermen to know what your Lordships think about us now. And here I must, as usual, declare my interest. I am an executive of Associated Newspapers Limited, and a director of the Daily Sketch: not a managing director, not a real tycoon, like the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, who knows where I only guess; but still a worker in the industry—if you like, the "poor man's Lord Drogheda". This debate, of course, is not quite like the last one. Then we discussed the Press, as it were, in vacuo; to-day we have a Report before us—and an excellent and very informed Report it is—containing recommendations on which we are asked to express a view. I shall tentatively give my own—my own, my Lords, and nobody else's. There is much to answer, and much to say; but I do not like to make long speeches, and so I will concentrate on those issues which seem to me to matter most. They are labour, the Press Council and the proposed Amalgamations Court.
First of all, labour. We have to face the fact that the position at the moment is pretty chaotic, as the noble Marquess who spoke before me pointed out. I was not surprised to learn that there is said to be a 34 per cent. excess of labour for requirements in the mechanical departments, though, in fact, the evidence for this happens to have been obtained in a most superficial manner. Perhaps your Lordships were surprised. Perhaps you were rather horrified. If so, what would you have thought had you known about the so-called "ghost workers", those mythical men who are called in to work the machines when extra pages are printed, and whose money, far from mythical, is shared out among those actually at work? Is that the sign of a healthy well-run industry? Again, did you know that wage increases in the newspaper industry have to be negotiated with—I thought, eleven, but the 898 noble Lord said sixteen, different unions? Is that really the way to run a railway or a newspaper? On this point I was particularly glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, that the number of negotiating unions may be reduced from eleven or sixteen as the case may be to six. That will be the day!
What about employers? As the Report says, what is required of them is that they, too, should be united. But are they? It appears not. There is, says the Report, in theory an agreement that if the production of one newspaper's publication were stopped the other newspapers would not publish. This arrangement, says the Report, seems to be broken as often as not. If there is not solidarity here either, are you surprised that newspaper production is a hand-to-mouth, haphazard thing, and that chaos prevails? What amazes me is that newspapers manage to appear at all. It seems to me, therefore, that the Commission were absolutely right in demanding the setting up of some joint consultative body of employees and employers to look into manpower problems and wage structures, to prevent unnecessary disputes, and generally in their own interests. Indeed, so obvious does it seem that one wonders why until now—I gather it is being done now—no serious attempt has been made to do it.
We have had to-day particularly welcome news from both sides of the industry. Let us at last have a united Newspaper Proprietors Association and a united association of unions, not necessarily to agree with one another, but to make sure, if they are to disagree, that both sides speak authoritatively and representatively. That way we shall get things done, and quickly. Because if this is not done, and done soon, as the noble Marquess pointed out, there is going to be an almightly crash. Competition becomes always fiercer, profit margins smaller; and the weak are ever more threatened. I beg both sides of the industry to stop behaving like spoilt children. Are they now at last going to see the writing on the wall of the house in which they live? Are they at last going to put that house in order? Do they want to destroy it? Surely that would be madness, and for the employees at least it would be difficult to find another abode so fine and comfortable. As the Report points out, 899 earnings in the newspaper industry are the highest in Britain.
From labour to editorial, and thus, obviously, to the Press Council. Surely there has been a ponderous dragging of feet in the matter of the Press Council. I am not saying that that body has not done important work in examining errors of taste and in helping to uphold journalistic standards. But, frankly, its annual reports at present read like a parish magazine. What it must do—and here again we have had encouraging news from the noble Lord—is to make itself into a vehicle for informing the country about what is going on in the Press. It should give regular "state of the nation" reports. That does not mean that it should have statutory powers; I do not think that would work, and I do not think the Commission want it. What is needed is not something for the expert but something for the public. I think that I can promise the Council a massive readership. People are fascinated by the Press and by Press politics. Small wonder! For in some ways it is the most glamourous of all the professions. Again, what was wrong with the idea of a lay Chairman and lay members? Was there so much to hide? By refusing to have such persons those concerned have certainly given that impression. It is good to know that there is to be no more nonsense about this. Let the Council have these lay men and women and cease to be, as it were, a closed shop.
Finally, on the Press Council, may I warmly commend the suggestion in the Report that the Council hear complaints of influence by advertisers upon the editorial columns? I commend it particularly because there is a widely held impression that this does happen, and it would be good to have it dispelled. I have never experienced it myself, except perhaps in the matter of motor car reviews. I have never read a really unfavourable report of a motor car. Yet cars, like everything else, are sometimes good, sometimes not so good and sometimes downright bad. Compare book reviews, which do not give a damn. This is a small matter that might be looked at profitably by the Council.
Here, in parenthesis, may I report something which may amuse or, more likely, sadden your Lordships. You will 900 remember that some time ago we had a debate on the Report of the Royal College of Physicians on smoking. Because, particularly, of what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said on that occasion, some £30 million were clipped off tobacco shares overnight. What happened? The tobacco manufacturers immediately countered by nearly trebling their Press and television advertising, and I am told that nearly 20 per cent. of newspaper advertising to-day comes from the tobacco companies. I initiated the debate and spoke strongly about the dangers of smoking. Ironically, I, as a newspaper man, now profit indirectly from the thing I spoke against. Life is indeed unpredictable.
Next I come to the proposal for a Press Amalgamations Court. I am naturally in favour of any measure that will prevent a reduction in the number of newspapers. But is this really a practicable proposal; and is it still necessary? And here I find myself in a predicament. The statutory machinery which it is proposed to set up seems to me cumbersome and almost unworkable. After all, whether we like it or not, we are still, in the last resort, dealing with finance and private monies. Newspapers are still, thank God, not nationalised, though they should beware lest this direst of fates may befall them. If a purchase or a take-over were required to comply with all the conditions suggested in paragraph 348 of the Report—which, to me at any rate, are so confused that I cannot make head or tail of them—would the result be anything but another lawyers' banquet: a banquet of so many courses that everyone concerned would be quickly sick? On the other hand, this process of the strong devouring the weak must be halted somewhere. As I said in the last debate, if I may quote myself [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224, col. 471]:If a time comes when one man is in control of too many sources of public information, then someone is going to say, 'No'.Personally I would leave it for a while. I may be wrong, but I think the predators are getting a little "windy". Let Parliament and public opinion keep them in suspense. They will not get away with another one.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl how many Royal Commissions on the Press 901 he requires to be set up before he considers that measures of this kind, which would deal with the danger pointed out by both Royal Commissions, should be taken? Does he want another Royal Commission in ten years; and another after that?
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I fully appreciate the strength of the noble Lord's argument. My point, quite simply, is that I have the feeling that people are getting frightened, and that public opinion is beginning to influence them and will stop such a thing taking place. If it does take place, to my mind it is utterly wrong. But I think we are coming into the waters of safety. In this matter of keeping a dying newspaper alive (it has not been said before and it is very important) let me quote the words of the Royal Commission:While legislative interference with market forces might conceivably check stray newspapers and bolster up weak ones, there is no way to success but through the quality of management and editorial direction.The Royal Commission says this twice. It is completely and utterly true.
Last of all—and I have probably spoken for too long already—how is the Press doing to-day—I mean editorially? Are the newspapers, and particularly the popular newspapers, worse or better than they were when last we talked about them? Speaking quite objectively, I would say, better. The gossip columns in their former odious form have, as I have said, virtually disappeared, and though there is still too much prurience, I think the tendency is towards less dirt. But, of course, in the last resort, it all depends upon the question of education—education of the people, which is not the concern of newspapers, and education of the journalist, which is. Here I am glad to be able to report some progress. I am glad to learn that you cannot now apprentice yourself to a provincial newspaper—and provincial newspapers are the nurseries of national newspapers—unless at the same time you enrol yourself in the training scheme of the National Council for the Training of Journalists. I am afraid that 23 per cent. or so of the applicants are still below the minimum educational requirements of the Council, and that over 50 per cent. fail to pass their proficiency test. But still, we are moving forward 902 here, and the effect will be felt in the years to come.
Meanwhile, as has been said by the right reverend Prelate, I think, the Press and we newspaper men remain rightly sensitive to public opinion and to what Parliament thinks about us. We are no blushing violets, but we are also no bulldozers. For instance, the debate on the Vassall Tribunal made a deep impression in Fleet Street, and there were some who took the noble Leader's remarks about the imprisoned reporters greatly to heart. We are not to-day discussing Vassall—that is over—but it would be pleasant if my noble friend felt able, with his customary generosity, to say just a little more about this. I have made a long speech and I am afraid I may have wearied your Lordships. But, after all, the Press, a great and entirely British institution, employing some 75,000 English and Scottish men and women, is a daily and important part of our lives. Let us continue to inquire into it, into our newspapers, as they continue to inquire into us; and let us be forthright in our criticisms. That way we shall learn, if not to like, at least to respect each other.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford, on his maiden speech, and to echo what the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said. We hope to hear him taking part in many debates in the future. I, too, am also grateful to Lord Francis-Williams for initiating the debate to-day. In accordance with the custom in your Lordships' House, I must at once declare my personal position. If your Lordships care to turn to page 148 of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press you will see that I am listed among the directors of Thomson Scottish Associates Limited, which of course is the controlling company of the Thomson organisation. But, let me hasten to say, I am there in an entirely non-executive capacity.
The second reason why I speak to-day is that I, too, like Lord Francis-Williams have had the privilege of earning my living in journalism. Many years ago, in the early 'twenties, I was a reporter on the Daily Mail. I was not worth any salary; I was taken "on space", and it took me a year before I graduated to the then minimum of 9 guineas a week for 903 reporters. Lord Francis-Williams may remember that in those days—they were great days—just after Lord Northcliffe died, the reporters' room was occupied by such famous journalists as F. W. Memory, Montague Smith, Harold Pemberton, and R. E. Dunne. Those are the men who taught one the elements of one's profession.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
May I interrupt just to tell the noble Lord that Mr. Montague Smith is still there?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I am delighted. He used to tell me off quite often. The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, divided his speech broadly into two parts. He dealt first with the structure of the industry, and then he dealt with functioning of the Press. On the structure of the industry, he condemned or criticised the concentration. I use the words he used; I took them down. He called it a "crisis in relation to industry and the public", and he said, "it was a situation critical for democracy". I suggest that we should feel a sense of proportion in these matters, because I personally dispute both those statements. All we are seeing, as my noble friend Lord Drogheda pointed out, is an expression in the newspaper industry of what is going on almost everywhere else in every other industry at the present time. In the chemical industry, the enginering industry, the shipping industry and the brewing industry we are seeing this expression of concentration; and I suggest to your Lordships that the structure of newspaper concentration is here.
I do not believe that the proposed court which would have to sanction future amalgamations would have much to do. If such a court is set up, it will be rather like bolting the stable door after the animal has escaped. I submit to your Lordships that we have to accept the structure as it is, and ensure that in its functioning freedom does not become licence and, on the other hand, that freedom is not restricted and that the public interest is preserved. Here, I was so pleased with the tribute of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams—I am sure he will call it a tribute—to my colleague Mr. Roy Thomson, who regards newspaper ownership as a business and leaves editorial freedom 904 complete. Indeed, in his organisation there are papers of the Left, there are papers of the Centre and there are papers of the Right. I think the remedy of weaknesses lies from within. As a start, I think there could be much done in agreement for better editorial standards. As a start, I should like to see an agreement between most editors of dailies and Sunday newspapers to abolish the memoirs of prostitutes, convicted criminals and other highly undesirable persons. But against this, we have to keep a sense of proportion in our criticism.
As Lord Francis-Williams said, the Press is at present in bad odour. It is a popular target to-day for stricture and abuse. But I believe that much of the dislike of the Press springs from prejudice and dislike of criticism of ourselves, of those we know and causes we serve. It is only natural. The Press is disliked to-day. So be it. To-day, in any club and at any political gathering round any table someone has only to make a sweeping condemnation, unsupported by any evidence, of the daily Press to get a reaction of pleased assent, usually from an ignorant audience. In most cases, this reaction is based, as I say, not on personal knowledge but just on sweeping general conclusions founded on indirect reports of particular instances which may or may not be true. I look round this Chamber, and I do not believe there is a single noble Lord who has not been the subject of criticism. Criticism we must accept. It is only natural that sometimes we feel slightly resentful, and from that resentment are sown the seeds of an inclination to have a slap at the Press when the chance comes.
I suggest to your Lordships that there is another side. There are very often attempts by citizens, by organisations, by Government Departments to mislead and to suppress. I do not believe that there is a Minister in the Government who could put his hand on his heart and say that he does not know of cases where "D" notices and the public relations system have been used to cloak individual or departmental failures. It is not the job of the Press to be popular with legislators or the Executive, and I often wish they were more free to criticise the Judiciary. It is the job of the Press to probe and expose the failings of those 905 personal or official standards which we expect from people in public life, whether such exposure is hurtful or not. This is a harsh doctrine, but it is one to which all who pay lip-service to the Press ought to subscribe.
In fulfilling this function of what I call the watchdog for public interest against inefficiency, extravagance, excesses, and abuses of privilege I believe that, by and large, the Press does a pretty good job. But in their fulfilment of this task, we often hear of cases of intrusion into private life, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, which is resented. We all know such cases. But sometimes events belong to the public if such events are inconsistent with the position and the responsibility of the individual.
Let us remember that the reporters themselves have a pretty difficult job of work to seek out news and report facts. Sometimes the line of demarcation between intrusion and exposure is a very thin one. I can remember once many years ago, on a Saturday morning, having climbed the wall of a very depressing looking, grey Victorian vicarage in Bedfordshire, beating upon the front door in order to get let in. The lady of the vicarage said, "Come inside", and I went in and sat down. She said, "Excuse me, you are sitting on a revolver. I am going to shoot my husband". I at once got up. I unloaded the revolver. That was part of a story on a vicar in Bedfordshire who had gone off with the local lady organist, leaving his wife and daughter chargeable on the rates. Under ecclesiastical law at that time, if a vicar was away from his living for a year and a day the living was sequestrated. The vicar announced, having had his year with the lady, that he was coming back to take the service in the church the next day. The vicar's wife had barricaded herself in with her daughter, and was going to shoot her husband if he arrived. I got the story, and I then went down to the village which was divided into two camps. I went to the farm where the vicar was staying and got the story on his side. I went back and thought that I had got the best story the newspaper had had for a very long time. To my disappointment the next day not one word was printed—because, of course, at that time I was so ignorant 906 that I did not know the laws of libel in relation to newspapers.
I cite that example in order to ask your Lordships this: was that intrusion? I think it was. But was it not justified as an exposure of deplorable church procedure and the individual conduct of a member of the Church? If so, it was intrusion which was justified. I give that example to prove my point that the line of division between intrusion and the duty of a reporter is often a very difficult one. Do not let us always condemn the reporters when they have to fulfil their unpleasant duties. Freedom is all for the Press. If from within, by the suggestions of the Royal Commission on the Press, we can improve the professional conduct, all to the good. But let us beware of any thought of action from without which would limit, directly or indirectly, Press freedom. Let me remind your Lordships once more of the words of Voltaire, who wrote:I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ EARL BALDWIN OF BEWDLEY
My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford, on his excellent maiden speech and I may say that I am entirely convinced by the reason he gave us for not having spoken in this House for 23 years. I hope that we shall often hear him again.
I feel that I ought immediately to declare my own interest. It is by no means a financial one, but is entirely emotional. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, confessed to his emotions on the subject, and I know very well that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, also has emotions on it. My own, perhaps not quite so strong, arise from another facet. As a close relative of a politician who was plentifully abused by a certain section of the Press in the years between the wars, those rather discredited years, and who is sometimes abused still when convenient, naturally, my experience of newspapers, which is solely from outside the profession, has been on the whole rather more displeasing than pleasing. The effect of this might be what psychologists call "traumatic", but any passion is long since spent and has subsided into an attitude of comparative detachment.
907 Fascinating as are many features of a Pressman's work, and much as one must admire his courage, persistence and ingenuity as well as his underlying ideal of service to the public, I find that I am no longer able to take all the fruits of his labour, whether in the political or in any other field, quite so seriously as I once did. Having years ago been sometimes fairly close to the sources of political news, I have been struck, as I think have many others, by the frequent aberrations of fact and inference on the printed page the next day. Some readers go so far as to say, on the subject of general news, that if ever they have exact knowledge of an event the account they read in the papers the following day is always at fault in some particular. My own view is that, if this is in fact customary, it is not so much the fault of the reporter or of the editor, as of the system; and readers will have to put up with it so long as they call for their daily news—as they do—tasty and piping hot. But I recommend the addition of a pinch of salt.
My few personal encounters with the Press have been generally urbane, but not invariably so. Incidents that I can recall are trivial, but nevertheless disquieting. I remember being coaxed into being photographed seeming to do something I had not done, and then being captioned next day as having done it. I have been spoken to very rudely on the telephone by a lady reporter who thought I was not co-operating over some dull matter to do with a young member of my family. I have been libelled—and, under pressure, apologised to—by a very left-wing journal, which inferred that because I was a director of more than one company I was therefore corrupt. I had never provoked any of these people, nor ever spoken harshly when approached.
My Lords, are such experiences as mine unique, or are they typical? I simply do not know. These journalists were just doing their duty according to their instructions, as was the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in regard to his story of the vicar's wife. It is all so silly and such a waste of time; but it is part of the high-pressure system which has been built up to give the public what it wants. That may be information, but it seems to me to be primarily entertainment. Each—Press and public—reflects 908 and excites the other's mood, and the effect upon both is inaccuracy and extravagant language.
The Royal Commission was asked among other things to have regard to the accuracy and freedom of opinion of the Press. For the reasons that I have given, I think it is idle to expect to improve the accuracy of daily newspapers. They seem to me to be about as accurate as they can get in the time, space and conditions that govern them. In fact I am surprised that they manage to maintain as high a standard as they do. In paragraph 205 of the Report we read that what are called "first-copy costs" give the proprietor a strong incentive to increase his circulation. I should have thought there was strong enough incentive whatever the costs were—high or low. But it is what must ensue from that that worries me. For any intensified effort to increase circulation will surely mean even more speed and more excitement—all at the expense of accuracy.
The Report says that there is less choice of all daily papers than there was in 1949, and that it would be better if there were more. Most people would agree with that. Variety is certainly desirable. But I think also, my Lords, that we all read too much of the newspapers as it is. And when I say that I mean simply that we should spend less time upon their study. It is the sheer cumulative impact that I object to, because of its stupefying effect upon the reader: all the more dangerous because it is unfelt. Something of the kind has often been said before; but not being obvious, it has naturally been disregarded.
Nothing that I say here is intended, of course, to derogate from the freedom of the Press. Once that goes, we are all done for. The freer the better. But up to what point I am never sure. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, said in your Lordships' House the other day in the Vassall debate, defamatory matter has been published, then a libel action provides the most suitable remedy. But there is one drawback here: the law of libel extends its protection only to the living, so that families of dead unpopular personages must continue to read offensive tales about their relations with what stoicism they can. And let them not suppose that a protesting letter to the editor of however reputable a newspaper, 909 and however courteously worded, is certain to find its way into print. Room may not be available for it. Although the Press is free for all, it is not bound to incommode itself over everyone's personal grievance. More desperate remedies have been tried. In France, for instance, the wife of a statesman then alive shot and killed the editor of a famous newspaper which had savagely attacked his reputation. But that was 50 years ago.
Such personal anecdotes, however, are not the reason for my wish that the consumption of ephemeral reading matter should diminish. It is my belief—and I do not suppose it is an original one—that, just as over-eating leads to physical flabbiness, so over-reading of popular periodicals leads to mental sloth and general unfitness of judgment; only in the case of the mind the result is not so manifest as it is in the case of the body. Few adults, I suppose, base their gastronomy on chocolates and cream puffs, but a great many readers seem to feed their minds almost exclusively on the literary equivalent, thus ensuring at least partial atrophy of the mental faculties. It is not the too-sweet quality of the sentiment, nor the misuse and the jargonising of the English language—that cant which is in itself an enemy of clear thinking—nor even its occasional impudence, but the sheer quantity of its empty brightness that I think is dulling men's wits: the excess of things so dreaded by the wise old Athenians who, while always keen to hear and talk of some new thing, also recommended, if I may use the language,—"Nothing in excess". My Lords, for all our cleverness, we ignore the wisdom of the ancients at our peril.
I live in the middle-west country, and what strikes me when I come to London is the amount of One that citizens and suburban travellers seem to spend in reading newspapers. The main reason for this may be that they have had to move so much to and fro in public vehicles that, in the hours of waiting and going, often in detestable conditions, they have become paper-drug-addicts and can no longer think for themselves, nor bear to be deprived of their anodyne. You do not see so much of that in the country buses where the people, having no midday and evening pipers thrust at them, tend to look about them and talk or sit and think—or, as townsmen may suppose, 910 simply sit. Anyway, my point is that they are not being got at so much; they are not being battered into accepting what I think is a cock-eyed sense of values. To-day, of course, country people do have the television, which is capable of producing a similar result in about half the time.
My Lords, if this over-reading and over-viewing continues unabated, the level of our intelligence in the far future may sink to that of poultry. Some of your Lordships may have observed the occupants of a hen-run. As soon as one bird is noticed to have made a discovery, the others leg it with all speed for fear of missing anything that might have been unearthed, only to find nothing profitable when they get there. This goes on all day. They never learn; nor, it seems, do they wish to. While we are on the subject of chickens, that goes, if I may say so, for many a human egghead, too. It is my belief that no mind, whether void or ovoid, and however self-confident, can over-indulge in this beguiling form of literature and remain safe. And this when, more than ever, we need all the brains we have to cope with the increasing complexities of civilised life! Perhaps it is not surprising that the popular Press directs so much of its attention to youth, because youth is impressionable, credulous, inclined to chivalry and very quick to condemn.
Many of your Lordships, like myself, have nearly or quite reached what Sir Walter Raleigh called the sixth of the seven ages of man: that age, ascribed to Jupiter (and I quote):in which we begin to take account of our time, judge of ourselves, and grow to the perfection of our understanding".My Lords, if the mind of man, and therefore the sanity of public opinion, is even more important than the wellbeing of the Press, then I believe that the more mature and well-educated folk, at least, should examine themselves in relation to this daily torrent of verbiage which is gradually washing the colour out of our individuality. It is not much good blaming the newspapers, for as I said it is not in their estate to operate otherwise so long as they continue to serve democracy as it desires. But it may be in their readers' power to use a little more discretion in their appetites. Our political safety may lie in the freedom 911 of the Press, but our judgment can be kept fit only by self-discipline, and I doubt whether any legislation is an adequate substitute for that.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I should like, first of all, to be the first from these Benches to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford, on his maiden speech—a maiden speech which did not in any way suffer from what must have been a considerable trial in having to wait for a long statement just before it was made. I should also like, if I may, to say to the noble Earl who has just sat down how very much I, and I am sure many others, enjoyed all that he had to say, and his way of saying it. While he was saying it I was thinking how fortunate it was that in this Chamber it is not considered the right thing to read a newspaper while other noble Lords are speaking. We here at least have ample time to sit, if not to think. That, I hope, is something that will go on for a very long time. Possibly our example, after the noble Earl's words, may be followed elsewhere.
A great deal of this most interesting debate has turned upon the question of the undue concentration of power in the hands of a few people or a few groups of people. I am certain that we all agree that this is undesirable, and that the results stemming from such undue concentration must be extremely serious for the whole future of the Press and the country. But I must confess that, while I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams in the fears that he has expressed and in the hopes that some action on the lines of the Royal Commission Report may be taken, I also share the fears expressed by other noble Lords (I think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, was one of them) that such action is extremely difficult, and, in my view, is unlikely to have any effect entirely by itself. Therefore, I would suggest that we ought to look to other means of overcoming the evils which can arise from this undue concentration.
My Lords, what is it that we really wish from the Press? Because whether the Press belongs to one group, one individual, ten, a dozen or a hundred, it will be neither good nor bad just because of its ownership: it is good or 912 bad because it comes closer to or is farther away from those ideals that we believe it should have. When I say "we", I mean the people of the country who are readers of the Press. The important thing for the Press, surely, is that it must be responsible in what it reports and in how it reports it, and its reporting itself and the presentation of its reporting must be objective. It must also have a sense of responsibility in its selection of news; what is news that is worth while reporting, that is good to report, that is right to report; and what is news to which, although of news value, it may be against the public interest to give undue publicity. That is what I mean by responsibility; and in objectivity it clearly must report the facts as well as it can, without bias in that reporting or in that presentation.
Now I do not mean that the Press should be entirely objective. It is perfectly reasonable for any newspaper, any periodical, to have its own views. In fact, if it is to be a good and worthwhile organ of opinion it must have its own views: but those views should, to my mind, be expressed editorially and not on the news side of the newspaper, and it should be made manifestly clear to the readers where the bias lies in that particular newspaper. In general, editorially speaking, that is so, but there are undoubtedly occasions and instances where this does not happen; and it is there, I believe very strongly, with my noble friend and with other noble Lords, that the Press Council should come into the picture. I will reserve my remarks on the Press Council until a little later but I should like at this stage to make it quite clear that in general, in my view, the Press fulfils its functions well. It is responsible, and it is, by and large, objective.
When, in the course of this debate, it appears that we are dwelling mainly on the faults of the Press, we are in fact doing no more than the Press itself does when it reports the disasters, the accidents and the scandals which occur all round us. It is not a true picture of life. All the countless thousands of miles which are driven without an accident, all the thousands of men who go down into the pits to quarry our coal without having a mine disaster, all the thousands of married couples who live happily without 913 shooting each other or getting divorces—these are things which, naturally, are not reported. Nobody is interested in all that. If in the course of this debate we dwell on the shortcomings of the Press in exactly the same way, we are doing that because this is the subject we are discussing, and it must not be taken as meaning that, in the opinion of those who mention these things, the Press is universally bad and spends all its time doing these reprehensible things.
What we are chiefly concerned about in the behaviour of the Press, I would say, is, as I have already said, that their reporting should be truthful and objective. In certain cases it is not so, and then we have the laws of libel which can be brought into use. In my view, the libel laws are one of the strongest bulwarks in this country for the preservation of the freedom of the Press, because they give the ordinary individual the ability to challenge the vast monsters of the Press and, in certain cases, to obtain redress from them.
I know that one of the big newspaper proprietors holds views very different from these. Mr. Cecil King, whose name has already been mentioned by several noble Lords, in a fairly recent speech made an impassioned plea for the poor newspapers to be preserved from the action of the libel laws. His actual words were:The British law of libel is an absolute nightmare to editors and working journalists. It is a territory full of pitfalls, even for the most cautious, where honesty of purpose is no protection. No editor, when he goes home to bed, can be sure his paper does not contain some unwitting libel".That is a terrifying and pathetic picture of poor editors tossing and turning as they lie at night, wondering what they have said which is going to hurt some innocent person.
He goes on to say:In the face of the grossly excessive damages awarded by juries, the Press is inhibited from its duty of public and critical comment".At a later stage he says:Since the result of a lost libel action and the heavy costs involved can cripple all but the richest newspapers, it is not surprising that many actions are settled out of court—to the great satisfaction of the litigants".914 I do not know if the noble and learned Viscount would agree, but I cannot see that it is a disaster if cases are occasionally settled out of court; and I must confess that tears did not spring to my eyes when I read of the sad plight of all but the richest newspapers who may be crippled by the appalling damages inflicted upon them by the courts or by the costs of these actions, and I cannot help feeling that if anybody did have such tears come to his eyes and had them analysed they would in fact have been found to be crocodile tears.
§ LORD WALSTON
Or possibly the processes of the law in his case were somewhat too slow. But I know of one, which belonged to a friend of mine, and which in fact did have a rather famous but very small libel action. But I cannot believe that many people would seriously maintain that our laws of libel at the present time are anything but a preservation, not only of the rights of the individual but also, in an indirect way, of the rights of the Press itself.
I am concerned not so much with the actual libellous statements which from time to time are published in newspapers, though I think we should remember that for every libel which is published and proceeded against there are undoubtedly a good many libels which, one knows, are never proceeded against because the cost of litigation puts off all but the richest of those who have been libelled. What I consider more serious is when a newspaper publishes what is, in fact, the absolute truth, but deliberately gives an entirely false impression—what I believe the lawyers call a suggestio falsi. In fairness to the newspapers, we must admit that this is not only the prerogative of the Press; other individuals and bodies do it. The Guardian on May 28 had an interesting leading article on this matter, headed "Statistics in a blue light". While I do not in any way wish to bring Party politics into a debate of this kind, I would, in fairness to the Press and to show that they have good companions in this, draw your Lord- 915 ships' attention to this article and read one extract from it:The tables above "—which are, in fact, pictured in this article—taken from a Conservative Party advertisement on education are a fair sample. The number of university students in 1959–60 was exactly a quarter more than in 1951–52, but the pictorial indicator has grown six times. As for projected growth up to 1973–74, at a careless glance the size of the student body might be supposed to swell sixteen times in twenty years; in fact it is expected to double.That is what I am suggesting as speaking the truth but in such a way as—I will not say "to be calculated to deceive", but in such a way that a reasonable person might consider it to be something which is not deceiving.
The classic example, of course, was the famous occasion when a predecessor of the most reverend Primate visited New York at the time of prohibition. At that time, "speak-easies" were very much in the air. The Archbishop was warned by some of his most experienced advisers that it would be a mistake for him to make any mention of such matters because it could easily be misrepresented. When the liner on which he was travelling docked at New York, it was boarded by reporters who were given an interview by him, and the first question they asked was, "Tell me, Archbishop, what do you think of our speak-easies?". He remembered the advice given to him, opened his eyes in innocent astonishment and said, "Are there any speak-easies, gentlemen?" The headlines which appeared that evening told the population that the first question the Archbishop asked on landing in New York was: "Are there any speak-easies?".
We see that happening frequently in all aspects of the Press to-day. When the balance-of-payments figures are published, you may see in one newspaper that exports have reached their highest-ever figure; but you may read in another newspaper that the gap has widened still further and the position is becoming serious. Both facts are completely true. Last week in your Lordships' House we had a most interesting and helpful debate on Sport, when the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, in his other capacity, was able to announce the 916 welcome additional sum the Government would be able to make available on sport. That could well have been reported in one newspaper as, "Government gives another £1½million to sport", and the ordinary reader would have said, "Good for the Conservatives; they always look after the footballers." On the other hand, with equal truth, it could have been reported as "Government accept Labour Peeress's suggestion for more help to sport"—in which case the man in the street would have said, "Good for the Labour Peeress, and the Labour Party." Both would have been true.
I have talked of what might have happened and what, in vague terms, has happened; but on Sunday we had an example of this in the Sunday Express which probably many of your Lordships read. The main headline read:Public School Shock. Accept State education or face big new bill—that's the threat to thousands of parents. Labour's secret plan: 'Bar university grants to fee-paying boys'.Then it goes on to say, with a long article by the Sunday Express political correspondent:A scheme to run the public schools out of business by denying their pupils State-aided places at universities is being considered by the Labour Party planners.Some of us may have read, if we read the back pages of various newspapers to-day, that that has been categorically denied by a leading member of the Labour Party. There is, in fact, absolutely no truth in the assertion that the Labour Party has made such proposals. Whether some members of the Labour Party who are, in their own right, planners—and all of us can be that—have at some time put forward this point of view or not, I do not know. I believe that two years ago somebody did so. So, to that extent, you can say that this is not a direct lie; but you can say with complete emphasis that this type of thing, this statement with these headlines, gives an entirely wrong impression of what is happening in this, to my mind, somewhat important aspect of public life. I presented this example because it is topical; I am not saying it is the Labour Party who are universally victimised and the Conservative Party are not misrepresented; we all have our fair share of misrepresentation all the way round.
917 I think the way this matter should be tackled, and the only way in which it can be successfully tackled, is by a Press Council. That must be the answer to it. That is what has arisen in the minds of those of the Royal Commission who suggested the Press Council in the first place. Let me remind your Lordships of the remarks of the 1961 Royal Commission on the Press on this particular matter. I quote from paragraph 325 of the Report in which it is stated:If however the Press is not willing to invest the Council with the necessary authority and to contribute the necessary finance the case for a statutory body with definite powers and the right to levy the industry is a clear one.Both Royal Commissions have come down very firmly on the side of a Press Council and I believe it is necessary, not only in the interests of the reading public, not only in the interests of the people who may be misrepresented and maligned by the Press, but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, has said, in the interests of those who are actually engaged in the profession itself.
A Press Council would, so far as they are concerned, deal with the complaints and difficulties of the reporters who have been wrongly sub-edited or ordered to do things they consider are against their professional morals. It would also deal with the complaints of editors who feel they are being given wrong forms of overriding instructions by their owners, and with all matters of that kind. But also, I think, it must deal with these problems of misrepresentation and of apparent truth being given an entirely false impression. In order to do that, it must be a very different body from what it is at the present time. Whether it should have lay members or not, I do not know. I should have thought it should have some lay members; I should have thought it should have a chairman, at least, who is not a journalist, who is not a newspaper owner; and perferably one with considerable legal experience. But I should be happier it were appointed by the Press and run by the Press, and not imposed upon the Press front outside.
Apart from its constitution, it must be able to do two other things. First, it must be able to act quickly. The present Press Council seems to hide itself from the general public in a way which makes it very difficult to get hold of it. I 918 tried to find it yesterday. Its number in the telephone book no longer answers and had been discontinued. The present number is ex-directory and only after a considerable amount of research and pressure was it possible to make contact. If the Press Council is to be able to act in cases of the sort I have outlined, it must be possible to contact it immediately and it must be possible for the Council to come to a decision immediately. If an aggrieved person complains that he has been misrepresented, it is no good having a retraction published in the newspaper two months later. A retraction must appear within 24 or 48 hours, certainly within 72 hours. And it must be made in a place of prominence equal to that of the original statement. It is useless having the name of a political Party, organisation or private individual splashed in the headlines on the front page and then, two or three weeks later, or even two or three days later, a small paragraph in the back page saying that the newspaper is sorry, it made a mistake.
The Press Council must be organised in such a way as to be able to deal with these complaints with the utmost rapidity, so that the complainant can be given the chance of presenting his case and so that the newspaper can produce its own justification. It need not be in any way a long legal process; it need be only a common-sense investigation of the facts. The Press Council should not only wait for an aggrieved individual to come forward and place his complaint; it should also be the watch-dog. It should read all the newspapers all the time and should be able on its own initiative to ask a newspaper for an explanation and, if necessary, to obtain a retraction of what has been said, if in the opinion of the Council unprofessional conduct is involved. I believe that only by that form of self-discipline within the profession of journalism, by having a Press Council, preferably with a legal chairman, so constituted that it can act rapidly and can actually order an offending newspaper to publish a retraction in whatever way the Council decrees, can we be sure that the concentration of power which has taken place and which, in my view, will continue increasingly to take place, no matter I what the Royal Commission may propose, 919 will not result in the complete corruption of our Press.
My final word is to repeat what I said earlier on. The fact that we have dwelt mainly on the shortcomings of the Press does not mean that these occurrences are other than rare. I believe that, in general, we have a good Press in this country. We have certain weeklies, monthlies and dailies that are a model to the whole of the world, and even among those newspapers rather derogatorily referred to as "organs of mass circulation" there are models to the rest of the world. We have a Press of which we are proud, but from time to time they have serious and wicked shortcomings, which the Press must look to if we are to continue to have a Press with its present reputation.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD MABANE
My Lords, at this late hour there is no need for me to be anything but brief, especially after this interesting debate. And perhaps I may be allowed to say, without presumption, how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford.
I am bound to say that I find myself in agreement with much that has been said in the course of the debate. My claim, if it is a claim, to take part in this debate is that I have lived through two Press Commissions. In 1949, I was an active director of Kemsley newspapers; and more recently, rather to my surprise, I was the second witness to be called before the Royal Commission. Therefore I am perhaps more acquainted with the evidence and with the Report than some other noble Lords are. I think that if noble Lords will look at the 1961 Royal Commission's terms of reference, they will find that the terms are much narrower than was the case in 1949. After thanking the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, for introducing this debate, I should like to repeat what he said by way of tribute to the members of the Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross. I spent three hours before them and was able to understand how carefully they approached their task, and with what wisdom: though, as I read the Report, I felt as if they were rather searching for something to say.
Perhaps, as one actively concerned in newspapers, I can say that, while there 920 has been much talk about the concentration of power, there has been no mention so far of where that power concentrates. It concentrates in the readers. Nobody has to buy papers, and if a paper has a large readership it is not because the proprietor is powerful, but because the readers want to read it. The reason why newspapers go bankrupt and close down is because nobody wants to read them.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord too much, but surely he agrees that newspaper proprietors are very powerful. Mr. Cecil King is surely many times as powerful as the noble Lord or myself.
§ LORD MABANE
My Lords, I do not agree at all. Both the noble Earl and myself are more powerful than Mr. Cecil King or anyone else, because we can stop buying the paper.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, is it not the case that over 1¼ million buyers of a newspaper, and probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4 million readers, wanted to read a paper like the News Chronicle; but the News Chronicle is no longer there for them to read? It is no good saying that people can stop reading a paper. What is happening now is that the paper they read can stop being available for them to read.
§ LORD MABANE
My Lords, I feel that the reason why the News Chronicle went down was because it was badly managed and was not a readable paper; and that is the feeling all the way through the evidence and the Report.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, it was a badly managed paper, but some 4 million people found it a very readable paper. The economics of the Press are now such that that figure is not enough to make a paper viable.
§ LORD MABANE
I do not want to enter into controversy. I wish to give my view that the real control of the Press is in the hands of the readers. I am surprised that anyone like the noble Lord should deny that.
I should like to say a word about advertising, which is often spoken of as rather a bad thing. But people should realise that advertisements are good readership. I ventured to say to the 921 Royal Commission that if one wants to find the best paper in a locality, one should find out which publishes most births, deaths and marriages. It is the "smalls" that attract the readers. I was interested after the New York newspaper strike to hear that many people, when asked what they missed most, said the obituary columns.
The two things which I wish to avoid at all costs are censorship and subsidy. I fear that the way in which some of this Report is drafted might seem to be opening the door to censorship and subsidy. I believe that for a newspaper to be subsidised by any particular individual or any particular body is the worst thing in the world. It happened in France before the war, as your Lordships will know; and it happened once in this country with a newspaper now defunct, the Morning Post, which, it is said, died of its own opinions. Therefore, I am, along with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, rather doubtful about the proposal for the establishment of this Amalgamations Court. I feel that it might be the way to censorship and therefore I do not like it. And I am glad that many other noble Lords who have spoken are also doubtful about this proposal. I am entirely in favour of moving ahead with the Press Council although I do not think it will do so much good which the readers alone cannot do.
To summarise the three points I want to make: the real power is in the readers; censorship and subsidy are, above all, to be avoided; and if anything useful can be contributed to our affairs from the Report of this Royal Commission, it is by an extension of the Press Council in the way indicated in the Report and in the way in which many noble Lords have to-day suggested.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I think that everything I might have said has been said already, and said much better. I should like therefore to read one sentence from the Royal Commission Report and to make one single comment. The sentence is from paragraph 325 where it says:If the Press is not willing to invest the Press Council with the necessary authority the case for a statutory body is a clear one.922 I should like simply to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and ask the Government to assure us that they agree that the case for a statutory body is quite incontrovertible if the Press Council cannot even get itself into the telephone directory.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I must apologise for being unavoidably out of the Chamber far more than is proper for someone who is to speak last for the Opposition. Having said that, I should like to add that I was glad that I heard a good many of the speeches, including the all too short one of the noble Lord, the maiden speech of the noble Marquess, who I see has been called away and who spoke so well when I was here—and no doubt even better after he had ceased to be disconcerted by me; and, of course, I heard the powerful opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, who I think, by general consent, stands alone in his knowledge of this subject having so many years of distinguished service in that field. We are all aware of the famous saying thatWho is tired of London is tired of life".Without going so far as to say that—and it is perhaps a not unwelcome break in the long and important discussions on the London Government Bill that we should turn to this subject—and, although I say it, from me at least it will not be resented, I am glad that the Bishops have been able to come and that a major contribution has fallen from the lips of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London.
I suppose that when we are tired these days, we look for rest and consolation among the writings that appeal to us. I believe that the noble Viscount occasionally translates a Catullus in these moods, and others fall back on the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius or the confessions of St. Augustine or even those of Rousseau. At any rate, we refresh ourselves from the deepest springs. But others (and here I am afraid I almost rule myself out in advance as a man of—I forget quite what—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Well, I have no doubt chicken feed for the noble Viscount to follow. But I was really 923 thinking of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. I am what might be called a "chain-smoker" of newspapers, a drug addict of the lowest type; and a man of that type, I gather, has hardly any claim to detain the House. Nevertheless, I must confess, since it is a day of confessions, that I return to writers in the Press—and there are many good writers in the Press. There is Francis Boyd, or Mrs. Lena Jeger in the Guardian, or Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge in the Daily Herald; I enjoy "Peterborough", or "The Londoner" (whoever he or they may be) and the "Londoner's Diary", and in this way I gain the rest which the noble Lord gains from feeding the chickens—if that is what he does with his chickens.
There are those who take the noble Lord's side about this. The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, reminded us of the poor opinion Queen Victoria had of journalists. He did not quote another saying of hers about newspapers. She said on one occasion:I never read the nasty newspapers. It does one no good and it prevents one doing one's work properly.I am not sure how she defined a nasty newspaper. I think it was roughly in the same way that we all define a nasty newspaper, as a paper which ignores one (which in her case was not likely) or which treats one harshly. There have been others who have taken that view. I am not sure what the practice of that great man the father of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, was in these matters; but certainly Lord Balfour was always accused of never having read the newspapers. This I have never been able to believe: that a Prime Minister should not read the newspapers; it always seemed to me to be a bit of affectation. But it was always said that he never did On the other hand, Matthew Arnold said:There are more things worth knowing in a single number of The Times than in all the works of Thucydides.The noble Lord opposite is a Thucydidean scholar and may not agree with that. But this view is partly supported, and it is one that I share. It is from that point of view that I approach the subject of this debate.
Some of us are experts; others speak for the Government, others for the 924 Churches, while yet others are left speaking for themselves. That is really my position, as it was of other noble Lords. One is therefore left to offer some rather general views about the Press. The Press is attacked for various reasons. I agree with the general opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in his affection for the Press at the present time, but it is attacked on certain grounds. The Press is occasionally accused of pornography. If I am asked how I come at this, I suppose that I come at it as what might be called a Catholic puritan. That does not mean someone who is a puritan in his week-day reading but a Catholic in his Sunday reading, because that might not be a very elevated figure. But I am, on the whole, a puritan, and at the same time one who is ready to read what may be a little dangerous for the soul, but what it may occasionally be his duty to study.
I remember some time ago, at the time of the "Lady Chatterley" business, that I was rung up by a firm of lawyers, who appeared to be acting for the publishers, and asked whether I would give evidence in favour of Lady Chatterley's Lover—the book, I mean, not the lover. I said, "I have not read it". It was not easy to buy then. It was only afterwards that it became impossible not to buy it. They said, "That can be put right", and that they could send me a copy. I replied that I did not think I should like it. They said, "Why not?". I said, because I was a puritan. They said, "There is no difficulty about that. D. H. Lawrence was a puritan, too". So I said, "Yes, but I am a different kind of puritan"—and I am afraid that is the one distinction between me and that man of perverted genius.
To-day, if I see that some Duchess is writing her memoirs in a Sunday newspaper, I do not read them unless I feel a duty to do so. Last Sunday, with a debate of this sort coming on, I felt one was perhaps under an obligation to see what these reminiscences amounted to. Having read them, I felt rather like the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, who, I believe, complained yesterday that he paid for what he thought was vicious and found that it was very harmless. That was my experience on Sunday: it was very mild and not very exciting. On the whole, I would not say that our 925 Press was obscene. I would say that it trembles on the brink of obscenity, and there is always a danger of its going over the brink.
Here, let me salute an old friend of the noble Viscount and mine, Mr. Randolph Churchill. I think his greatest public service has been the extraordinary, single-handed war he has waged against the Press, even indicting certain Members of this House, I think, as pornographers royal, and generally making a great noise about it. He was in the peculiar position of conducting a campaign which appeared to be anti-prig and anti-pornographic at the same time. I would say that the Press have been distinctly better since they knew somebody was going to attack them if they overstepped this line of obscenity, and I think we find very little pornography in our Press to-day. That does not mean that the Press are in any way perfect. One has on many occasions had to differ from their sense of news values. There is the question of bias. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, dealt with that.
At the time of the last Royal Commission, the conclusion of the Commissioners was that in the Press to-day the views of the Left are not insignificantly expressed. They are supported by the biggest popular morning circulation under one control, the Daily Herald and the Daily Mirror. That may have been so then. It can hardly be said to be so now, though I would agree that these newspapers favour the Left Wing rather than the Right Wing Parties. But one could not say that the Daily Herald to-day was a Socialist newspaper as such; it tends to favour the Labour Party more than the Conservatives. I say that clearly. It is not under Labour Party control. At the present time I would say that the Labour Party suffer distinctly, as compared with noble Lords opposite, from not having a paper more closely associated with their views. I say that in all candour. But I agree that these newspapers favour the Left Wing argument on the whole, and we must not neglect the service they seek to render. I would not say that bias was a noticeable feature, because on the whole the newspapers present the facts and the bias comes out in the leading articles, which is where it should come out. But there is a good deal more writing from the Conservative side.
926 When we come to other criticisms of what might be called the news value of the Press, it is harder to be equally satisfied. If we take the discussions we have had in this House about London government, everyone would agree that these discussions have been among the most important with which this House has been occupied for many years. Take the two full days which we devoted to the Second Reading of the London Government Bill. To the best of my belief—and I have had this checked to-day—and so far as I have been able to discover, those discussions were not dealt with, certainly not in any recognisable form, in any of the popular newspapers. I have not looked at the Daily Sketch, but the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will probably confirm that, if it is true of the Daily Sketch. It is true of the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Daily Herald and the Daily Mirror. If you take the popular Press—I do not say the quality newspapers are unpopular, but I think "the popular Press" is a well-known expression—those discussions in this House were not referred to in any way.
This is something that must give us pause. We may be told that it is because the House of Lords is not news. It is news when we are discussing something sensational. Anybody who looks at the newspaper this morning will see that it is big news all over the popular Press, because the Peers are described as "attacking sleazy clubs". That is, no doubt, a worthwhile job in which the House did its part yesterday. But no one would say that the discussion yesterday would rank in importance with two full days' debate on the Second Reading of the Greater London Bill. No one would say there is any comparison in importance. But in the one case there were headlines all over the place, and in the other, complete silence.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, if it is any comfort to the noble Earl, I think he may be assured that there will be some coverage, at least, of to-day's debate in your Lordships' House.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
That, I am bound to say, is no comfort at all. It would be a personal comfort if the noble Earl could give me any assurances about my own remarks. It would be certifiable if there were a full debate in 927 this House on the Press and the Press did not report it. I am glad that the noble Earl has told me that, but, to be honest, I think it shows a great pessimism about the Press that he thought it necessary to give us that reassurance. At any rate, those are the facts about the debates in this House.
Your Lordships may say that what they stress is not necessarily trivial or sensational; you may call it the human or, possibly, the dramatic. When we had an important debate on the educational side of the London Government Bill, which went on most of the working day, it was not referred to, so far as I noticed, in the Daily Mail, except in one aspect—where the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, felt it his duty to criticise the fact that the Bishops were not here. But the educational issues were not touched upon by the Daily Mail. On the front page, I am glad to think—I suppose I am glad to think—I obtained my own mention under the heading, "Lady Edith rebukes Earl". I apparently had been talking to someone on this Bench, and the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, thought it her duty to say that she could not hear herself speak. That got on to the front page, and the profound observations which I and others made on education were ignored. That is a little more human story than the reorganisation of educational authorities in the London area which, in any case, is rather difficult to put shortly.
Let me say something quite seriously. I must express warm appreciation of the attention which the popular Press, along with other newspapers, have given to the grave illness of the Pope. When you get some dramatic thing that happens to a man popular all over the world, the Press does its job. Therefore one must not talk as if it paid no attention at all to deep and moving events.
So much for sensationalism or triviality. We may be told that the Press are inaccurate. They often start by being so, but it is a question of whether they finish by being so. I was rung up on Sunday and asked whether it was true that I had recommended popular polo. In fact, the noble Duke had recommended it and I interrupted and said I did not see how it was going to work. I questioned the merits of its quality, but it had got round 928 in some indirect way that I had recommended popular polo. I told them I had not, and that was the end of it. You cannot blame the Press for getting the thing wrong at first blush, but it would have been wrong if they had put it in without checking it.
Great indignation has been aroused by some of the things which the Press did in the Vassall case, and I can understand that. But, of course, it was often very difficult to get at the truth, and the Press felt that they must try to state the truth, yet they could not find it out. I think very often this is where the mistake comes. The Press realise that there are some important facts which are of great interest to the public and, maybe, of great significance. They cannot find them out. They conjecture and speculate, and put out what they believe to be the truth, although they have little ground for it. That is where one of their mistakes arises.
The other big mistake lies in the field of prediction. They announce, perhaps, that there is going to be an Election this year, without knowing any more than the rest of us whether there will be; but that is pardonable and, I think, fairly well understood. The papers this morning seem to have guarded themselves fairly well against the Derby result. I looked in the Daily Express and the Daily Herald, for example, among other newspapers, and each of them had four or five commentators or tipsters, if one is still allowed that word. So it is very unlikely that between them they were not going to get the answer. They made more or less sure of the result one way or the other and I have no doubt that each paper must have got it. That, of course, is not allowed in most of the comment, and a lot of the misleading things one reads in the Press are really predictions based on scanty evidence. But as an inveterate reader of the Press, I am bound to say that as long as the predictions are not damaging to individuals I might make great mental allowance on behalf of the journalists.
So we reach the question: what, if anything, is to be done about the Press? Here I place myself firmly, and almost deferentially, behind my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams. We have had these Royal Commissions, and they have reached the same conclusion, that there 929 ought to be a Press Council with a lay chairman and strong lay representation; and we have been told—and this, to me, was the main sensation of the debate so far—that, in fact, this is shortly to be announced; I did not know this when I first came in here to-day. So, we understand, in that sense we are not only pushing at an open door, we are simply walking into a room with the door wide open. That is apparently the position now, that there is going to be a Press Council of this particular sort; so I think, in that sense, I need not argue very much for it.
There was great stress laid on concentration and very striking figures were given by the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, has gone because he produced an interesting but, I am bound to say, I thought fallacious argument that you can compare the power—I do not know whether or not he was serious in this contention—of the individual reader of a paper with the power of a Press lord. You might say that if you could collect 1 million, 2 million or 3 million readers and band them together and they decided to take common action against a Press lord, their power could be compared with his. But to take an individual reader and compare his power with that of a Press lord is of course rather fantastic—but I doubt whether the noble Lord made that point seriously.
I side very much with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, that in journalism we have a profession. He spoke in a way we all respected about his family connection, past, present and future. In this profession—which is an industry in which economic considerations are operating—a journalist, while in some ways he may like to follow the professional standards of a doctor or a barrister, is in a sense at the mercy of economic forces which cannot altogether be ignored. That raises a case for a kind of intervention which you do not find in other professions, and it seems to be in general agreement—and it is shortly to be announced, indeed, by the papers—that a Press Council of the sort suggested in the Royal Commission should be established.
I would add only just one word on that, and one word on something else, and then sit down. The noble Lord, 930 Lord Walston, carried me with him when he called for quicker action, but I thought he wanted action that was in a way quicker than human nature and human circumstances would permit. I have read this Report of the Royal Commission and I am afraid that I do not think you could dispose of most of these matters in two or three days even if you could, so to speak, subpoena everybody. Nevertheless, I agree with him in wanting this speed. I was a little less happy about the active watchdog, which I thought would have a job of commenting almost every day on what was going on, which might be going too far. But I agree with his approach to speed. I was going to put a question to him, but I daresay he would agree with me now, that much more money for that and other purposes would be required than the Press Council has ever possessed up to now.
I would add one further thought which came to me in a pamphlet which was written by Mr. Harford Thomas, a leading figure on the staff of the Guardian, who suggested that a Press code should be established. I do not imagine that this code would be compulsorily established; it would be propounded by the Press Council and the papers would be expected to comply with it. But if anybody says that a Press code is impossible, I would say to them that apparently many countries in the Free World have a Press code—for example, Australia, West Germany, India, Italy and Sweden—and the United Nations has drafted at least one international code. So there is nothing far-fetched or absurd in the idea of a Press code. It would lay down certain general principles about accuracy and the kind of evidence which should be ruled out, professional secrecy and other matters. I am throwing this thought rather rapidly at the noble and learned Viscount, and, therefore I am not expecting him to deal with it offhand if he does not wish to. But I respectfully suggest that there is a great deal to be said for this Press Council propounding a Press code.
In conclusion, I support the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, and many other speakers in pressing for this strengthened Press Council and I also support him in pressing, along the lines of the Royal Commission, for the Amal- 931 gamations Court. I feel that is quite essential in view of the staggering facts about concentration which he placed before the House earlier on. In the last resort, I feel that most of us—even perhaps, in other moods, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley—admire the work that is done by our journalists in this country, who are full of failings like the rest of us. But the real question is whether some sort of self-discipline can be accepted by the Press; whether they can accept some sort of machinery which means that from day to day and year to year there will be some force operating on them other than purely the force of the market and their own competitive instincts. We do not want such a force in any way whatever to take the form of interference by the politicians, but a Press Council on the lines suggested seems far the best way of tackling this problem. I am very glad indeed—it seems we already have a most satisfactory outcome, not perhaps unconnected with this debate—that this Press Council is on the way. For that and for many other reasons, I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, for initiating this debate.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who has just resumed his seat, has covered a very wide range of subjects, moving rapidly from my own habit of translating Latin poetry when life becomes too much for me, to Queen Victoria, skirting over the illness of the Pope and complaining bitterly that his own speeches on the London Government Bill were not adequately reported.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, that was a very small part of my complaint; it was a complaint that the speeches of nobody, not even of the noble and learned Viscount, who was otherwise very well reported, were dealt with on that occasion.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I made no speeches on that occasion, so in that case the Press were entirely accurate.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
The noble and learned Viscount said that he made no speeches, but what about the long arguments on the procedural question before the Second Reading adjournment?
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, could I put this to the noble and learned Viscount? He may attack editors of the popular newspapers for many things, but surely he should not attack them for not printing that particular discussion in extenso for the edification of their readers.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, my own judgment, for what it is worth, is that the popular and more serious Press valued those debates at exactly their true worth, and I could not more heartily endorse what they reported or what they did not report. But there was more than that in the speech of the noble Earl with which I did not agree. I did not agree that it is any handicap to the Labour Party not to have a tied newspaper any longer. Indeed, so long as the Daily Herald was, in fact, tied to the Labour Party, I think that it was a good deal less successful than it is now as a supporter of their side. I should have thought, broadly speaking, that at the present time the Left Wing point of view was very much better represented in the popular Press than that which I myself uphold.
However, the debate, in spite of the noble Earl's enticements, is about the Report of the Royal Commission, and the main part of what I say I think ought to be devoted to this topic. We have had a number of interesting, and some of them extremely amusing, speeches. In the latter category I particularly enjoyed that of the noble Earl who sits on the Gross Benches, and one very pleasing maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Hertford, whom we were glad to welcome after a too long period of silence before he embarked upon his career as an active Member of this House. I was also very glad to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London. It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of debate in which a contribution from the Bishops' Bench is particularly welcome. I am bound to say, too, that I did not endorse at all the criticisms which, in their absence, were made against them by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and which seemed to me to quite misunderstand the rights of Members of the House to take part in such debates as they feel they can offer a useful contribution to. I thought this was a most unfair attack.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I must interrupt, because I was present. I cannot remember whether the noble Viscount was.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That is quite true. I had no part to play in that debate and I have a part to play in this, and I told the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, I proposed to advert to his remarks on this occasion. He is absent on this occasion; the Bishops are present. I am bound to say that I think he was most unfair on that occasion to the right reverend Prelates.
We all enjoyed the opening speech, and as the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, reminded us, the Commission whose report we are discussing was set up very largely in consequence of the demise of the News Chronicle, followed by the take-over among other organs of the Daily Herald. The demise of the News Chronicle was an event I think we all deplored, although it was one which few of us were bold enough to say could have been prevented. It was in itself a matter of some significance. Despite what my noble friend Lord Mabane said—and I could be no judge as to whether what he said about the quality of its management was correct—as the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, pointed out, it is something of a portent that a business, to put it no higher, such as the News Chronicle, supported by an army of customers, or readers, of 4 million, or something of that kind, should suddenly be swept away by economic forces which rendered it unprofitable to carry on.
Although personally I was always somewhat sceptical of the results of this Royal Commission—and that is no criticism of its members—I do not wonder that people thought that here was a phenomenon worthy of careful investigation. The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams described the situation as critical for democracy. I am not sure I would go as far as that. In that degree I think I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that perhaps this was overstating the case.
The Lord Bishop of London reminded us of Blackstone and the freedom of the 934 Press, but I cannot help feeling that the nature of the freedom of the Press has developed a little since the end of the 18th century. In those days it consisted of anybody with a few pounds in his pocket buying a press and selling a few, perhaps a few hundred copies of a newspaper; and in those days what was chiefly insisted upon was the right to express his own opinion. Nowadays, if such a freedom ever existed it has long since died. Nobody can start a newspaper to-day unless he is supported by many millions of pounds. It may, of course, not be illegal for him to try. It is like the law before the days of legal aid, open to everybody like the rest; but it is not everybody who can afford to enjoy this particular freedom.
I personally attach a great deal more importance to the value and comprehensiveness of the news service than to the leader columns of any newspaper as an essential organ of democracy, and I think in that I am echoing the opinion put by my noble friend Lord Drogheda, who told me that, for reasons he gave, he was unable to stay to the end. The real value of an independent and free Press to a country is, after all, that people should be in possession of the necessary objective facts to be able to exercise their own judgment about events, and not so much that everybody should be able to express his own opinions through the columns of the Press, which he manifestly cannot. Indeed if the freedom of the Press meant that, I should be obliged to say with the late Archbishop Temple—who I am assured never did say it—se non é vero é ben trovato. "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church but I much regret it does not exist."
The result of the labours of the Commission is certainly a Report which is of great value. I rather share the scepticism of my noble friend Lord Mabane as to whether really the recommendations will go far to remedy the disease which it was designed to diagnose. For my part, I agree with the Commission in rejecting the various proposals for subsidy, whether direct or concealed or whether paid for by levy or by contribution from public funds or by compulsory service from advertisers, as being remedies which are in themselves worse than the disease; and in that I think most of us this afternoon agreed.
935 Of course, the recommendation of the Commission which has met with the most response in this afternoon's debate is that for a stronger Press Council. I think almost every speaker has agreed with that and has laid considerable stress upon it, and it is one with which the Government agree and to which the Government attach importance. As the House will recall, the Commission desired to see a stronger Press Council with wider functions, and fulfilling, as at present it does not, the recommendation of the 1949 Commission that it should have a lay chairman and lay members. The additional functions included: to scrutinise changes in the ownership, control and growth of Press undertakings, including periodicals, giving wide publicity to authoritative information in these matters in annual or special reports; to keep up to date and publish information about concentration in the Press on the lines recommended in the Report; to enforce the Royal Commission's recommendation that newspapers should bear the name of the company or individual in ultimate control of their affairs.
The Commission thought that the Press should be given another opportunity voluntarily to establish such an authoritative Council. And although I sensed in Lord Airedale's brief intervention that he might not be of the same view, I am bound to say I did not detect very much public enthusiasm behind the recommendation that the Government should, at any rate at this stage, enforce them by a time limit. At any rate, the Government have thought it right to give the Press Council a reasonable interval to act on the suggestions of the Commission.
The Council met immediately on publication of the Report and have since held more than a dozen meetings to consider this and other recommendations. It is, I think, fair to the Council, which might otherwise have been accused of undue dilatoriness, to remind the House that it is composed of journalists or managers nominated by no fewer than seven constituent organisations. These are scattered throughout the country, and their sponsoring bodies meet, I need hardly say, on different dates, and various other difficulties exist in the way of getting them together for consultation. At any rate, the Government do 936 not consider the Council have been dilatory, and I believe that they are now, as has been said, within reach of an agreed formula.
They have kept the Government informed of their progress and they have told us that they have, not without difficulty, reached a position where there is an overwhelming body of opinion within the Council in favour of a lay Chairman and additional lay representation. They are also agreed to extend the scope of the Council's work as the Royal Commission recommended, and they expect to obtain Council approval of the new constitution early in June. If we can obtain voluntary agreement by then—and it looks as if we shall—there are obvious advantages in dealing with it in this way. Legislation, which in any case would never have come before us this Session, could not have speeded up the establishment of what we want.
I should like to add two further reflections on the future of the Press Council. If it is to fulfil the wider functions envisaged by the Royal Commission, it will certainly require a bigger permanent staff than it has now. I think this would meet one of the points put by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. No doubt this is in mind, but it will cost more and I hope that the industry will be willing to accept the obligation. It seems to me essential that the services of busy professional men who join the Council should, so far as possible, be aided by adequate administration. The new Council should, therefore, have an adequate, although I would not suggest lavish, secretariat.
That brings me to the second reflection. The Council will need, and ought to have, the best men and women available to it, whether Press or lay. Not every proprietor or editor instinctively welcomes losing even a small part of the services of a valued member of his own staff. Such appointments, though honourable to the recipient, are not invariably welcomed by employers. I can only say that I hope proprietors will be not only co-operative but encouraging in this respect. It is in everyone's interests, not least those of the Press, that this Council should be a body with authority. I hope that no one called upon to serve it will be made to feel too strongly a conflict of loyalty between 937 his own newspaper and the interests of the Press as a whole.
It is not for me to comment upon the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for a professional code. I would make only two points to him as my immediate reflection upon what he said. The first is that a profession must make its own code: it is not something which a Government ordinarily can impose. The Government do not impose the definition of what is called, rather strangely, infamous conduct on the part of the medical profession; nor do they impose upon either or any of the legal professions what they consider to be right and proper. The second is, of course, that if a code is to be imposed by anybody there must be some degree of sanction behind it. You can be unfrocked if you are a priest, and you can be disbarred if you are a barrister. I am not sure that there is any comparable event which can take place in your life if you are a newspaper man. Of course, this presents one with a slightly different point.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, if the noble Viscount is leaving that matter may I point out that, as I understand it, in other countries the profession would work out its own code? I am not suggesting that it should be imposed. If they do work out these codes in other countries, surely they must overcome the difficulty mentioned by the noble Viscount. I do not suppose they in fact "unfrock" them; so I suppose they reprimand them.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
There can in no profession be any objection in principle to a code, so long as it is administered by the profession itself and is agreed to by the profession itself. I can see considerable special difficulties in the way of a general code for newspaper men; but, having myself lived within the bounds of a profession, I should be the first to welcome a professional code in any profession; although I would say that, even so, the written rules are always of considerably less importance in governing one's conduct and in maintaining a high standard of conduct than the unwritten rules which are sometimes observed much more closely.
That brings me to another recommendation of the Commission, which is the recommendation of a Court with 938 power to prohibit further acquisitions. I am bound to say that the Government are able to give the assurance for which the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, asked: that we take such a proposal seriously and will consider it seriously. But I am bound to say that, speaking solely for myself, I was more impressed with the scepticism, for instance, of my noble friend Lord Arran than I was with the modified enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams. I can see the attractions of the idea, and I acknowledge the partial analogy of the Restrictive Practices Court. But I think it is a misleading analogy. I did not myself feel that the Commission had thought the proposal through. I remain unconvinced, unless it can be shown either that the Court would be in a position to reverse the economic conditions which have given rise to most amalgamations and take-overs in the past, in which case (which I recognise as improbable) the Court would seem to be unnecessary, or that the consequent economic losses, if any, of not carrying out the recommendations of the Court would be borne by the public, in which case I should have thought it was undesirable.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I think it is quite clear that the sort of case the Commission had in mind was the sale of Odham's Press to one group, the Roy Thomson group, which had been more or less completed when there was a take-over bid by another group, that of the Daily Mirror. The one made a concentration of both daily and Sunday newspaper ownership which the other would like. In that case, it would not have meant the death of any paper, which would have meant that in any case the Odham's group would be kept alive. It might have been well worth while to have a tribunal to judge as to which was more likely to be in the public interest.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
This may, of course, have been much in the Commission's mind, because it was something which had happened recently and was partly one of the causes leading up to the appointment of the Commission. But one must examine the recommendation, as to whether it is practicable, either in the form in which it is made, which certainly did not limit it to cases of that kind, or indeed in any modified form.
939 As a lawyer, of course, I greatly respect the legal process, but I am bound to say that the first question I ask when it is proposed to set up a court of law, presumably presided over by a member of the Judiciary is: is the issue which it is proposed the Court should decide one which, in the strict sense, is justiciable? In this case I find it difficult to accept that what is in the public interest is in that sense justiciable, and I would not willingly recommend to Parliament a proposal in which this difficulty was not adequately met. I do not think that the proposed recommendations on this score were at all satisfactory.
Moreover, I must point out the danger of getting the Judiciary into politics. In the case of the Restrictive Practices Court, although they had a residuary jurisdiction to decide what is in the public interest, apart from the objective criteria which they had to apply, they were dealing with things which were not directly concerned with Party politics. If they were going to deal, say, with the future of the News Chronicle, which was a Liberal paper, or with the future of the Daily Herald, which was at that time a paper devoted to the Labour Party, I could see, I think, a considerable reluctance on the part of the Judiciary to become involved in an inquiry of that nature at all; because their primary concern must, of course, be to retain the respect of the public for their independence—which involves not merely their real independence of mind, but also the belief which the public can have that they are seen to be independent in every respect.
Moreover, I am bound to point out that the prohibition of a transfer of shareholdings in a newspaper which was losing money might in fact prevent the only hope it had of continuing in business; and the time involved in the procedure contemplated (which I am told might be, even without appeal, at least a year) might prevent amalgamations which would otherwise have been unexceptionable. Furthermore, even where redundancy and closure did result, I cannot help remembering that the News Chronicle amalgamation was at any rate defended by those who took 940 part in it as affording some additional recompense to the staff. So I remain personally unconvinced of the practicality of the proposal.
In some ways the most attractive and solid findings of the Report, certainly to me as Minister for Science, were those relating to efficiency of production. I noticed, as did my noble friend Lord Hertford, in his maiden speech, that in paragraph 91 it was stated that Personnel Administration, Limited, estimated that a saving of the order of 34 per cent. could be made in the manpower employed and distributed in the London newspaper offices which they investigated on behalf of the Commission, and that, apart from this waste of labour, the development of new machinery and techniques has not been developed to the best advantage. I agree that these findings indicate that both sides of industry, not just the unions, are to blame and that the industry as a whole needs to apply modern methods of management and production, modern ideas in labour relations, and modern research and development.
One cannot help asking, in view of the statement by Lord Hertford that some papers now on the danger list could be saved if modernisation were carried out, whether the News Chronicle, and perhaps other newspapers, would still be alive and redundancies avoided if labour hoarding and restrictive practices had been abolished. Whether this be so or not, these are deficiencies which must be remedied by both sides in the industry putting their own house in order before further closures or redundancies should take place. As the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, reminded us, newspapers, like everybody else, must consider that they could make a really notable contribution to Productivity Year by modernising their own industry; and no more than any other industry can newspapers escape the general economic law which declares that an industry which will not modernise will ultimately decline, and suffer from all kinds of other troubles too.
This brings me to some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on matters affecting manpower and labour relations. I was glad that Lord Francis-Williams expressed some hope that there would be a reduction in the number of 941 unions, and he asked me a question about the position of the Minister of Labour in matters of this kind. Soon after the publication of the Report, my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour began a series of discussions with the leading representatives of the employers' organisations and trade unions concerned, to discuss the recommendations. His general objective was to urge, them to take action as quickly as possible to remedy the matters on which the Commission had been critical of the industry—for example, inefficiency due to over-manning and diminished productivity, and the machinery for negotiation and consultation. My right honourable friend is keeping in close touch with developments, and he has been assured that progress is being made, although, in view of the fundamental issues involved, it is not likely to be rapid.
So far as the national Press is concerned, the Newspaper Proprietors Association, as my noble friend Lord Drogheda told us, has put forward proposals which are at present under consideration by the trade unions concerned. These proposals are, I am told, of a far-reaching character. They suggest discussions with the unions on the possibility of a smaller and higher-paid labour force and a more realistic staffing in all departments, the reductions to be achieved not by dismissals but by wastage and retirement. They suggest also that the wage structure should be simplified and rationalised, that casual working should be reduced, and that against this background of a reduced but more productive labour force schemes might be introduced covering redundancy, pensions and sick benefits.
Clearly, proposals of this sort will require close discussion, and it would not be appropriate to comment on them in any detail. But in answer to Lord Francis-Williams, who asked me to specify the Government's attitude, I would say that the Government welcome this fresh comprehensive approach to the labour problems of the industry. Technically, I think that improvements would result as much from exploitation of modern machinery and methods as from increased research and development. This is frequently the case, and the inquiries I have made about the technical position of the industry confirm the view of the 942 Royal Commission that the development of new machinery and techniques has not been exploited to the best advantage. I had something more to say about that, but at this late hour I will not inflict these technical considerations on your Lordships.
All this having been said, one is left with what was really the theme of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams: that here we are confronted with an industry which contains within it a profession. And in dealing with the Press, one is bound to remember that a profession is a proud and sensitive thing whose ethical standards ultimately come from within and cannot be imposed from without. My noble friend Lord Arran made a number of interesting, and in places very amusing, comments on that aspect of the matter, in addition to those noble Lords to whose speeches I have already referred. He also invited me to make some more remarks about the two journalists and the Vassall case. I am not at all sure how far I ought to go with him there, but there is one matter I should like to say, if nothing else.
I personally enjoy a friendship with the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, and I was very distressed when I found the next morning that I had given him deep offence. Indeed, I enjoy a friendship not only with him but with members of his family, and it would have been an abominable thing if either the noble Viscount or the management of the Daily Mail had influenced these two comparatively humble members of the profession to act to their detriment in the way that ultimately happened. I must say that it never crossed my mind either that this had happened or that anyone might understand my remarks in that sense. As a matter of fact I was not intending to refer in that speech to the management of the Daily Mail: I was, in fact, looking in a totally different direction. And the only reason I did not make it clear was because I felt—and feel—that my information did not justify my being more precise.
Having myself been a member of a profession—I hope an honoured member of an honourable profession—for thirty years, I found it utterly incredible that two professional men, faced with a serious problem of professional conscience—indeed, with something of a crisis in their career—did not discuss 943 the matter with trusted colleagues; perhaps senior to themselves; perhaps their equal or juniors; perhaps on the same newspapers, or perhaps not. Of course, in the end, a decision on a matter of conscience is a man's own, but I cannot find it in myself to place the sole blame on the two men concerned. My opinion may be controversial—many of my opinions are—but I felt, and feel, it right to say that I think it is the greatest of pities that two men who had lived blameless lives, and for whom until that time no one had a word of ill to say, were allowed to come into conflict with constituted authority for the sake of a principle which I strove then to show, and still believe, they had misunderstood.
At all events, I hope that that particular episode will be forgotten, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Arran will take it back to his associates in the Press group of which he is a member that it certainly did not cross my mind to say anything which could legitimately give any offence relating to them. Indeed, it would have given me great distress to think that the quite happy relations with the proprietors personally, and with the management personally, could in any way have been jeopardised by my remarks.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I just say one thing? Whilst I thank the noble Leader for his kind remarks, it is still a matter of some importance to us; and we feel a little embarrassed at the thought that our people should have been given advice when in fact they were not. That is the view of the noble Leader. The point is that if we had given them advice, either one way or the other, we should have been doing one of two things: either we should have been helping them to commit what turned out to be a criminal act; or, on the other hand, we should have been telling them not to respect their journalistic code. In those circumstances, our position was terribly invidious, and I believe that it would have been quite wrong for us to give them any advice of any sort.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I quite understand that the position of the employer in this relation was necessarily an invidious one, and, as I said to my noble friend, it never occurred to me 944 that I was looking deliberately in his direction or that of his friends. So far as I am concerned, I entirely accept their explanation, and I know of no circumstance whatever which would in any way invalidate what he said.
My Lords, we are left therefore with the fundamental question of the standing or status of journalism as a profession. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, and indeed the right reverend Prelate, took a lower view of the standing of the profession than I should myself. I would not wholly accept the view as a universal generalisation that the profession was in bad odour, or was an outcast or hated, as I think the right reverend Prelate seemed to hint. What I believe is true is that its fundamental function needs to be looked at by the profession itself. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, its fundamental function, in my view, is to provide society, in its widest sense, with the objective facts upon which an individual can found his own judgment reliably on quite a different range of subjects, ranging from politics to sport, to art, to literature and so on. I feel myself that, if this were done, it would greatly assist not merely relations between Parliament and the Press, but relations between the Press and other bodies.
I quite accept, for instance, from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who told us such an interesting recollection of his early life (although in fairness to his employer I think he should have made it clear that he was not instructed to unload the revolver), that it is not the business of either the Press or the politicians to be popular. Both have a public duty to perform; and this must necessarily involve both from time to time in unavoidable unpopularity. But if our function is to expose or to probe, as I think my noble friend perfectly correctly said, the public must be sure that it is done without malice or without vindictiveness.
To show what I mean about this—again, I do not want to be accused of any bias in this matter or of any feeling—let me take, for instance, the period between the institution of the Vassall Tribunal and the debate we had the other day. I read in the New Statesman on March 22 a feature called "London 945 Diary" by Mr. Paul Johnson, in which he said this:I wonder if Macmillan quite understands what he has let himself in for. He is about to fight an election in which he will need every friend he has got. At the moment he has none whatever in Fleet Street. During the campaign itself he will of course get formal support on proprietorial instructions from certain Tory papers, but only in the leader columns which few people read anyway. Between now and polling day political news reporting, and of course slanting of news, will be heavily pro-Labour. I think this has already been reflected in the coverage of Wilson since he became Leader, which has been far more favourable than even his most optimistic supporters could have expected. At the same time any Tory Minister or M.P., or for that matter judge or barrister, who gets involved in a scandal during the next year or so must expect, I regret to say, the full treatment.Now what does that mean? It means that, in the opinion of this experienced writer, the people who are reporting news are not reporting facts honestly, are going to report them vindictively, and are going to report them maliciously and in a slanted fashion. Of course it is true—
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
If I may interrupt, I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will stress that that is the opinion of one individual. I do not think it would be an opinion that would be shared, certainly by the majority—indeed, by hardly anybody else—in Fleet Street. My own feeling is that on that occasion Mr. Johnson was talking the most absolute and complete rubbish.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was about to make a very similar point. And, of course, Mr. Johnson says that he regrets to say it. But what is significant is that a man of his experience could state it as his own opinion about the code of conduct observed by his fellow journalists. This is the serious thing about it.
It is very fair to the Press to add, as a rather similar point to that of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, that he was in fact castigated for it, certainly in the Daily Mirror, and, I believe, in other national newspapers, too. But we must remember that this kind of thing has happened to banisters, has happened to judges and has happened to politicians. Anybody who has read, for instance, my brother's life of the late Sir Edward Marshall Hall, will remember a dreadful example where this man, who was an aggressive type of advocate, cross-examined, 946 in good faith, the witness in the case which indirectly involved the proprietor of a newspaper, and was very nearly driven out of business until he made an abject apology.
It is vital, if the Press are going to probe, are going to expose, are going to do things which it is their duty to do, that the public should be reassured that it is being done honestly and without bias. It is ultimately their business to see that they do it; because the Government cannot. The Government are powerless in this matter. Up to a point the law of libel is a protection, but it is not a full protection. And, my Lords, to quote from the same newspaper an article by the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, which he wrote after the Report of the Tribunal in the Vassall case on April 26, he said:The Press have come very badly out of it. Altogether the Tribunal analysed some 250 separate articles in the national Press. They deal in detail only with a few of particular significance. They find themselves bound to report that not one of these stands up to serious inquiry.And if the noble Lord will remember from his writing, he said a very great deal more than that—and more honour to him for saying it!
The fact is, my Lords, that the Press must put their house in order. It was not bias against the Press, or hatred of them, when one of the most distinguished writers in Fleet Street wrote that on April 26.
Moreover, despite the very good things that could be said, I do think it dreadful (and I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, finds it exactly the same, because I read his article last week in the same newspaper) that large sums of money, amounting to thousands of pounds, are repeatedly paid out by popular newspapers for the recollections of a traitor or a pervert, since when we have been regaled with Miss Keeler and the Duchess of Argyll. I regard that as deplorable, not only in a Christian country but in any decent and civilised country at all. If the Press want to raise their own status, it is no good abusing me or the Government for sometimes uttering a word of criticism. We are pretty well the only people who can say anything which is ever heard or paid attention to. My hope is that the Press will put their own house in order and will not 947 attack those who feel it their duty to bring these standards to the attention of the public.
My Lords, I have said all I am going to say. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, for bringing this subject to our attention. I regard the Press as one of the great bastions of freedom in this country, as one of the organs of culture in a civilised country; and I hope that we can all wish them well in the task which lies in front of them.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, might I ask him whether it would be possible for the Government to put to the Press Council, which is undergoing a change, what is going to be the attitude from now on of the Press Council on this question of the payment of vast sums for the reminiscences of traitors, and so on?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I understand that one of the unions concerned has taken up one aspect of the matter, and I would far rather that this were done by the Press internally, without Government pressure. It is much the same kind of problem as we were faced with over tobacco advertising. I do not like Government action by force if people can be persuaded to exercise a responsible conscience of their own—as I believe will happen here. But if it does not happen, public opinion will probably, in my view, compel some kind of political action.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I have no wish at all to extend this debate further. I think it has been a very interesting and very valuable debate. I put the Motion down largely in the hope that matters would be raised in this House and opinions expressed, because although no concrete action is possible by the Government or by anybody except the Press itself, it is desirable that opinions should be heard; and in the belief that your Lordships' Chamber provides exactly the kind of forum in which opinions of that kind on a matter of public interest can be heard and expressed with some possibility that they will have influence on those who are directly concerned both in the industrial conduct of the Press and in its professional affairs.
I am glad to find myself so much in agreement with the noble Viscount the 948 Leader of the House on so many matters. I regret he does not feel able to go along with the Commission on the issue of an Amalgamations Court. In support of this, I should like, if I may, to call in a Member of your Lordships' House with whom I very rarely find myself in agreement but whose experience and knowledge on these matters is undoubted and of the greatest. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook. When giving evidence before the Royal Commission, Lord Beaverbrook was asked whether he regarded it as a danger that there should be more amalgamations; whether there would be a danger if a single proprietor bought up more papers. To which he replied:Stop it.He was then asked:You say, 'Stop it'. How?".And he replied:Only the Government can do it".He was asked by what means, and he said:The Government can stop amalgamations when contrary to public interest, and the amalgamation of a newspaper to a very great extent would be contrary to public interest".I had hoped, my Lords, that at the end of this debate we might have had the fascinating and unique spectacle of Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Hailsham and myself walking hand in hand towards the future. That is not to be offered us. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has dropped out—though, as I understand it, in the friendliest fashion.
My Lords, I have no desire to continue further. I think, judging by the edition times your Lordships have recently been sitting, we have come to a fairly reasonable Press time. I have no desire to stop the papers and the editions from rolling any longer, and I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.