HL Deb 22 April 1975 vol 359 cc759-61

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

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the statement by the Secretary of State for Industry that the British Press do not speak for the British people reported to have been made in Glasgow on 13th April on a visit to the Scottish Daily News represents the views of the Government.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Industry is as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. Individual Ministers may or may not share his view. There is no Government view.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord will confirm this point? Do the Government wish to preserve the freedom of a newspaper to speak for anyone or everyone, should it seek to do so?


My Lords, I should not have thought there could be any question as to the position of Her Majesty's Government, in light of the number of speeches which I made on this subject on a recent occasion.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us believe Mr. Wedgwood Benn was right? The editors speak for themselves, not for the common people. This is completely wrong; they only defend capitalism and condemn those who believe in Socialism.


My Lords, there may be something in what my noble friend says. Most newspapers are public companies seeking a profit, and they themselves make their decisions on editorial content in the light of that factor.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, whether or not these views represent those of the British Government, they certainly represent the view of the majority of British people, who are reinforced in that view by the kind of treatment that a vast mass of them who do not believe in staying in the Common Market are receiving from the British Press?


My Lords, I think I shall avoid the last part of my noble friend's supplementary question and leave it for a later occasion in the ensuing debate.


My Lords, would the noble Lord at least agree that editors make up their minds on many other factors besides that of profit?


My Lords, I have no idea what goes on in the minds of editors, but I do know that the question of circulation is a matter which must be at the forefront of an editor's mind.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he can mention a single newspaper that speaks for the British people? Generally speaking, is it not customary for newspapers—there are instances where the position might be otherwise—to speak on behalf of their proprietors and their advertisers?


My Lords, that is all part of the question of circulation and keeping newspapers financially sound. As for the earlier part of the supplementary question, I think I will claim the privilege of being among the other individual Ministers who have yet to declare their view on this issue.


My Lords, would it not help the Secretary of State for Industry were he to take more notice of information in the Press, since he would not then have incorrectly ascribed statements about this, your Lordships' House, and the EEC Commission, to my right honourable friend Mr. Whitelaw on Sunday?


My Lords, I do not see how that point arises on the Question now before the House, and I strongly disapprove of a Member of the Front Bench opposite putting that supplementary point on this Question.


My Lords, since the noble Lord allows questions to go rather wide, may I ask whether he is aware that the Morning Star totally failed to report the noble Lord, Lord Milford, our sole Communist, in yesterday's debate, but that The Times, a capitalist newspaper, did report his speech?


My Lords, that may be so, but I fear I have not yet managed to read the Morning Star.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if he agreed with the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who held high Office in Her Majesty's previous Government, he would be seeking to take away the individuality of decision and expression of another Member of Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, I will leave where it stands what I said about the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and suggest—not in defence of my own position, but because we have been four minutes on this Question—that sensing we are entering into a debate we should now move to the next Question.

Back to