HL Deb 01 May 1972 vol 330 cc564-8

2.42 p.m.

Debate resumed (pursuant to Standing Order No. 55) on the Motion for Second Reading.


My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that at the conclusion of the debate on the Motion for Second Reading on Thursday, April 27, a Division was called, and as it appeared that fewer than 30 Lords had voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 55 the noble Lord on the Woolsack declared that the Question was not decided and that the debate therefore stood adjourned until to-day. I hope that your Lordships will be prepared to allow the Question to be put forthwith. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Denham.)


My Lords, the position is that the Companion visualises the possibility of the continuation of a debate in circumstances where the Question has not been decided. I do not propose to repeat all the arguments or to go at great length into a discussion. I should like to express my sympathy with the Government Chief Whip. I am bound to say, from what I know of the occasion, that it was not entirely his fault. But by his wisdom the debate was adjourned, and it is possible for us, in rather unusual circumstances, to review what happened on the previous occasion.

It is worth noting that the majority of speeches were against the Bill. There were admirable speeches from my noble friends Lord Sainsbury, Lord Shepherd and others. I am only sorry that one noble Lord (I do not see him present so I shall not mention his name; but it is one of the reasons why I wanted to speak) saw fit to suggest that my noble friend Lady Stocks was opposed to this Bill because she made a great name for herself with the B.B.C. I think that was an unworthy suggestion, which I am sure the House will agree should be rebutted. Perhaps in these circumstances I should declare an interest, because I was once a B.B.C. producer in Northern Ireland, where we had a great deal of local radio and where I am bound to say the membership of a large corporation gave a degree of independence from pressure groups. One needs to be aware of the danger of log-rolling. There is one particular issue to which I should like to refer. I believe that the importance of the independence of producers is quite fundamental, and there are doubts whether the Bill will achieve this. I say this, notwithstanding the fact that I regard the recent B.B.C. series on the Empire as intellectually contemptible. None the less, that is a price that we pay for this sort of freedom.

A second point is that a number of criticisms were made about the possibility of a monopoly situation on the part of the newspapers. Practically every speaker from the Back Benches made criticisms of these proposals. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, said that the suggestion that newspaper influence would result in slanting the news was not true. This is one of the occasions after a debate, when, luckily, we can see what the newspapers said. Looking at The Times report, I can only say that it was so selective that noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, my noble friend Lady Phillips and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, were not reported at all, and of the two columns devoted to the debate one column was given, by an extraordinary coincidence, to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. I would not accuse the noble Lord (I am glad to see he is here), because I know that he does not seek to control his editors in these matters, but gives them freedom: and that I absolutely accept. None the less, it does cause some of us a little concern. With those few remarks, I can only say that we shall seek to do something about this Bill in Committee.


My Lords, I ask the indulgence of the House to raise a point of order. Without suggesting that the House would not wish to hear, or would not benefit from, the intervention of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, may I point out that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had already put the Question, and the custom in accordance with the past has always been that subsequent speakers have to give way to the Lord Chancellor?


My Lords, may I say from the Woolsack, because I think it affects me in my capacity as Speaker, that I did not put the Question. I proposed the Question after a Motion had been moved, which I am bound to do, but I did not attempt to collect the voices because the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, rose.


My Lords, I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that he should give consideration to the astuteness of the editorial direction of The Times in picking out the very important contribution which I made in the debate. I am fully experienced in this business, and the noble Lord is not, and I think it was most important that the things I said should be recorded in full.


My Lords, as one who has not spent his life in Parliamentary procedure and is therefore somewhat unversed in some of its subtleties, I would call the attention of the House to another occurrence which happened on Thursday night, namely, the simple fact that the Government, on the Second Reading of a Bill of their own making, failed to get that Second Reading because their own supporters were not sufficiently interested in the Bill to turn up in numbers in order to vote for it. Therefore we are now asked to meet again. Standing Orders are quite clear that there can be a further debate on the subject and anyone who spoke on Thursday can say his piece again. At any rate, we are now here, no doubt with a whipped up majority of noble Lords who were not here to hear a most interesting debate, in which speeches for and against the Bill were made in various parts of the House. Those noble Lords missed the important speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, among many other notable speeches. On this matter, for which there is clearly so little enthusiasm—in fact almost none at all; not enough to make a quorum at 7 o'clock in the evening—I have no doubt that we are going to pass the Second Reading and devote an enormous amount of Parliamentary time on Committee and later stages of the Bill. My Lords, having made my remarks, I will now sit down and keep silent.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Platt, was able to be present throughout the debate and to hear all the interesting speeches. I feel that perhaps some other noble Lords would have liked to be able to do the same. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has in fact put his finger on the situation by expressing sympathy, which we much appreciate, with those on this side of the House and I am glad that your Lordships will not wish to continue this debate for very long to-day.

On the several points that have been made, perhaps I might start with that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. So far as selectivity is concerned, this was perhaps a trifle disappointing for me because I was given only two sentences on the B.B.C.'s "Today in Parliament". As for the noble Lord's own coverage, I am sure this was most adequate and entirely righteous. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, raised a point concerning the independence of producers. This is of course a permanent matter of concern to all those connected with the broadcasting media and it is here that we shall particularly rely on the experience of the new I.B.A. when it comes into being. This is not really a matter for the Government. The monopoly of newspapers is a subject about which I expect we shall hear a good deal more in Committee. When Amendments appear, they will be given the most earnest consideration by noble Lords on this side. To-day perhaps I may leave the matter there until that stage is reached. Meanwhile I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.