HL Deb 24 February 1976 vol 368 cc647-84

House again in Committee.

Debate on Amendment No. 1 resumed.


I hope that noble Lords can recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and I should like to say how fully I agree with what he said. I think that it is too late in the day to send a revised conscience clause back to another place without any prospect of fruitful result. After all, it is fruitful result that we want; it is not merely to have a clash with another place. We want to do business, if business is to be done. But, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, we know what the answer is likely to be, because we have debated this matter in both Houses so many times. It would have been possible for noble Lords opposite to put down this Amendment long ago and not left it until this late hour.

Moreover, I think if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, had wished to lean so heavily on me he might have found out whether I was able to bear his weight. He is apparently relying on me for his form of words, but has failed to get them right, and, presumably, is hoping that I will give him support. I hope that there is no underlying political motive in what is happening this afternoon. We are all talking about integrity and conscience; so it would be unbecoming if I were to say that this looks very much like a political ploy. Is it that noble Lords opposite want to enforce the Parliament Act on some aspect of this Bill, without, presumably, wishing to imperil the main Amendment to the Bill, which is contained in the suggested Amendments from the House of Commons? It looks as if, in default of any other line of attack, noble Lords opposite have gone back to conscience.

May I say also as gently as I can that I doubt whether, by history or temperament, noble Lords opposite are entitled to bear the torch of freedom of conscience in trade union affairs. After all, the history of trade unionism is littered with the martyrs of conscience, not at the hands of their fellow workers but at the hands of their employers. Although in these days we all stand for freedom, and wish to see workers protected from the tyranny of their unions as well as from the tyranny of their employers, nevertheless I think they might now and again leave it to some of us on this side of the House to uphold the Ark and the Covenant of individual freedom in industrial matters.

I stated my views on conscience. I object to conscience, I object to religion, as the criterion for deciding whether a person has good grounds for objection to a particular compulsion or course of action. But I am not going to weary the Committee with an examination of the meaning of words and whether, as in the judgment of the tribunal that was quoted by my noble friend the Leader of he House, there is any basis for a genuine objection to doing something, except that of religion. I do not accept that view myself, and I would hope that one day it would be possible to find a basis for conscientious objection not based on any religious faith.

However, when this House preferred conscience to religious belief and sent the Bill to the other place, the other place preferred religious belief to conscience and so it came back in that form. Those who were stoutly defending religious belief as a basis for objection to joining a union were the Agnostics in another place. But, for my part, I am prepared to leave the matter where it is. I do not like it, but the debate has to end somewhere. We cannot go on with a game of battledore and shuttlecock between this House and another place. If it comes to the final point surely we must concede—especially in this matter—the right of another place to the final judgment of this issue. I am not prepared on any grounds at all to endanger the inclusion in the Act as it is finally passed of the so-called "Press charter". That is the really important matter that we have to consider, and that is really why the Bill comes back to your Lordships' House with suggested Amendments from the Commons, which I sincerely hope will provide a wide measure of agreement.

Apart from the possible political and procedural consequences of insisting on this Amendment there are one or two other points that might be considered which I suggest can give comfort even to uneasy consciences in this matter. The first is that the obstacle to joining a union on grounds of conscience or religious belief usually occurs at the outset of a closed shop agreement. It is when the closed shop is being agreed to that the question of conscience mostly arises. It is then that the pressure of the unions for a closed shop is applied to nonmembers. It is among the non-members that the conscientious objectors are likely to be found. It is therefore at the point of negotiation and agreement between the unions and the employers that the position of conscientious objectors has to be resolved. My noble friend the Leader of the House made precisely the point that we arc dealing, after all—and I have emphasised this many times—with employers and unions coming together to negotiate a closed shop agreement, and there can be many terms and conditions within it before it is finally acceptable.

I heard the other day of a closed shop agreement which had been negotiated between Burton's, the tailors, and the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers. They were already organised as to something over 90 per cent. but the question arose as to what was to happen to those who were not members of the union and who might have conscientious objection to joining. According to my information, the agreement reached was that workers should not be compelled to join the union and have their job put at jeopardy if they had genuine, conscientious grounds for refusal. There was nothing about religion; it was conscientious grounds. The agreement provided for a joint committee of employer and union to determine appeals for exemption on grounds of conscience. That seemed to be an eminently tolerant and sensible arrangement. It provided that those who were exempted from union membership on conscientious grounds should pay an amount equal to the trade union subscription to some charity.

There is nothing to prevent other closed shop agreements following these sensible lines. I suggest that no worker will be dismissed by the employer for refusal to join a union unless the employer is pressed by the union or unions to do so. The pressure comes from the unions, and much therefore depends on the tolerance of the unions. I suggest also that few unions will press for the dismissal of a fellow worker if he has genuine objections on conscientious grounds, or other genuine reasons of conviction or religion, if that worker can satisfy either his fellow workers or a committee appointed to adjudicate on the strength of his feelings. In most cases those who have this kind of objection to joining a union are known already. It is not something they can trump up at the last minute. Union representatives have been going round seeking their membership probably for years, and they have probably been met all the time with this position of conscientious objection. Therefore, one does not necessarily have to have religion as a basis; one has to have however a reputation for being an honest, truthful, and sincere person. I believe that the unions will know that grounds exist in particular cases for a worker's objection to joining the union. We shall probably find in many closed shop agreements provisions of the kind that I have mentioned, which will avoid any serious trouble.

The unions are not really out to penalise conscience, but they are out to stem the possible tide of hypocrisy. This is what the unions have to guard against. After all, their ultimate aim is solidarity and not necessarily the membership of the last worker unit in an undertaking. It is solidarity, trade union strength, that they are seeking to get by a closed shop arrangement. Subject to their consent to exemptions, which, in the case I have quoted, seems to be possible on tolerant grounds, there should be no real trouble in many of these agreements. I think, therefore, that we should leave the matter where it is and hope that the common sense of employers and unions will prevail to get in closed shop agreements provisions which will overcome any real ground for concern.

Both unions and noble Lords want to safeguard in men and women those qualities of character, of integrity and strength of conviction, which are too valuable in a democratic society to be made the victims of tyranny on one side or the other. And if there is any common sense to be expected in this situation, as I am sure there is, and if there is any reasonable degree of tolerance to be expected in this situation, as I am sure there is, then let us give it a try and see what happens. If there are serious grounds for concern in the future, then it will be possible to come back to this matter; it will be possible to promote fresh legislation to safeguard workers from unreasonable treatment, martyrdom and loss of employment.

I appeal to noble Lords to view this matter with a full understanding of the traditions, the history and the motives of unions and the history of trade unionism in this country, and to place some confidence in the trade union movement to fulfil its obligations to the community without doing an injustice to individuals whom Parliament might feel it had to intervene to protect.

4.12 p.m.


I do not want to intervene if it is the desire of your Lordships to continue this debate, but I rise in case I may be right in surmising that that is not your Lordships' desire. I would, I am bound to say, find it easier to answer some of the arguments which have been put, and particularly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, if I was really able to understand them to the full. Lord Houghton is not a person from whom I wish to score debating points, but I must remind him of what he said when he last addressed your Lordships on this matter. He said: What is good enough for the Parliamentary Labour Party is good enough for a Labour Government's Act of Parliament on any matter you like affecting conscience or religious belief".—[Official Report, 23/9/75, col. 196.] I really wonder whether, having regard to that quotation, the noble Lord will in years to come feel altogether satisfied with the speech which he has just delivered. In fact, of course, he has just delivered a speech which establishes the principal point which I was seeking to make; namely, that a conscience clause not confined to religious belief is, at least in his opinion, workable. Lord Houghton appealed to the Committee to consider the Montague Burton agreement, of which I was previously unaware. He said it contained a conscience clause which had no relation to religion and was clearly workable, and therefore it is not correct, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, that such a clause would open the door to every kind of abuse.

The noble Lord also said, truthfully, that this problem is likely to arise in its most acute form and probably in most numerous cases where a closed shop arrangement has just been arrived at between a union and employer. I agree with him, but that is just what makes mincemeat of the argument addressed by Lord Shepherd, because he was thinking that an employer would be reluctant to take a new man on if he thought he might be a potential conscientious objector. But he is entirely free, whether or not this Amendment is passed, to reject a would-be applicant for employment on any grounds whatever because this Amendment has no kind of application to persons applying for employment; it applies only to compensation for those who are dismissed from employment which they already have.

Lord Shepherd began by saying that he appreciated the way and the spirit in which I had proposed the Amendment, and I was grateful to him for that acknowledgment. The only other thing that Lord Houghton suggested was that this was a political ploy. I do not suppose that those on the Benches behind me would support me for an instant if they thought it was a political ploy, but if there are any noble Lords on the Benches opposite who think that this is a political ploy, let me hasten to disabuse them. Lord Shepherd was correct in thinking that this Amendment is put forward on its merits, and that brings me to the other two speeches which have been made on this subject.

There are two separate issues which have to be considered: is this Amendment inherently desirable and is it something which we ought to send back for another look by the other place? The second issue arises only if an affirmative answer is given to the first, because clearly if this Amendment is not inherently desirable we ought not to pass it, even if it were the first blush of a virginal Bill. But I find a little difficulty in supporting, or even understanding, Lord Shepherd and Lord Wigoder in saying that even if, in effect, we thought the Amendment was inherently desirable—as Lord Wigoder expressly said that it was—we ought not to send it back for another look by the other place. Let me assure the Committee, as I say, that I recognise no less than Lord Houghton and Lord Shepherd that in this particular matter at this particular stage another place has the last word; it has the last word by law and even if it did not have the last word by law I would acknowledge its right to use the last word as a matter of constitutional propriety. However, that does not mean that if, on a matter affecting the conscience of the individual and the protection of an individual against unfair dismissal, we happen to hit on something which is right intrinsically and has not been thought of before, we should not ask the other place to look at it.

Lord Shepherd said that it would take two or three hours to discuss the matter in another place. I accept that, and having been perhaps for longer than most Members of your Lordships' House a Member of another place—for longer than I care to remember, from 1938 onwards—may I say at once that I take that argument extremely seriously. I would not ask another place to spend two hours of its valuable time, not even one hour of its valuable time, discussing a matter unless I thought it was of sufficient importance intrinsically that it should do so. On reflection, I do think that it is of sufficient importance to ask them to do it. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that there was not the smallest chance of another place concurring in our opinion, even if it is a right opinion.

I wonder whether that is an argument which really bears examination. We must realise the constitutional facts of life. The whole situation would be transformed overnight, in a moment, in a trice, in the twinkling of an eye, if the Government accepted it. I am not really asking for another place, on a free vote, to consider the question of conscience, for I believe that, if it did so, the arguments which I am proposing would overwhelmingly win. I am asking the Government to give the advice—if they are persuaded and to the extent that they are persuaded—for the Government and its members to search their own consciences, which are not necessarily their religious beliefs, and to see whether they cannot have another look at this.

There are reasonable men in the Government. There is the noble and learned Lord who decorates the Woolsack. There is the noble Lord the Leader of the House. There is the Home Secretary. They are all members of the Government. I simply do not understand the arguments of merit which have been put to us. Nor do I understand why it is considered improper for this House to ask the Government to reconsider the matter when everybody knows that, if the Government did reconsider the matter in this sense, there would be no difficulty about obtaining the adherence of the other place. Nor is there the smallest danger of losing the so-called "charter" to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, attaches so much importance. The only effect of this going back to another place and of being rejected—unless the Speaker were advised to certify, instead of sending it back here and saying that the Commons would not agree, which I hardly think he would do on a single Amendment—wouldbe that we should have to look at it again. As I say, I do not dispute that the Commons have the last word, so I do not feel, on balance, that there is anything in that argument.

Nor is there anything whatever in the argument that the words in the Schedule to the 1974 Bill to which I personally take objection are repeated in the Employment Protection Act. If the Government took the view that we could improve this Bill, they could as easily improve the Employment Protection Act. What stands in our way is not the conscientious objection to what we say of the tribunes of the people, but the members of the Government—or, rather, perhaps without seeking to probe the secrets of the Cabinet Room at any rate until the next volume of memoirs comes out, some members of the Government.

I turn last of all to the so-called merits. They really depend on one proposition and one proposition only. That is that one cannot work a conscience clause. I should have thought that after this debate and after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, one could hardly make that argument stand up but, when the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, says to me that nothing has happened since the last time we discussed it except perhaps that I have taken the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, at his word, I venture to say that a good many things have happened. Not least of these is the suggestion that we should adopt a European convention which has a conscience clause in it. That suggestion comes from the Labour Party. It is quite clear that the conscience clause in the European convention will apply to the present Bill and, if the Labour Party's suggestion were accepted, it would become part of the law of this land. But let us assume that the Labour Party's suggestion is not accepted. It means that this country may have the humiliation of being hauled before the European Convention Commission for a breach of this piece of legislation which we are being asked to pass without amendment at this moment.

I sincerely ask the Government to think again. Of course if they refuse they have their machine-made majority in the House of Commons and of course if they use that machine-made majority we shall have to give way. I have never pretended

Aberdare, L. Grenfell, L. Northchurch, B.
Aldenham, L. Gridley, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Allan of Kilmahew, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Allerton, L. Grimthorpe, L. Peterborough, Bp.
Arran, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Piercy, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Platt, L.
Auckland, L. Hankey, L. Powis, E.
Audley, L. Harcourt, V. Rankeillour, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Reading, M.
Belstead, L. Hartwell, L. Redesdale, L.
Berkeley, B. Hawke, L. Reigate, L.
Birdwood, L. Hereford, V. Roberthall, L.
Brecon, L. Hill of Luton, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Broughshane, L. Hood, V. Sackville, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Homsby-Smith, B. St. Aldwyn, E.
Cathcart, E. Hunt of Fawley, L. St. Davids, V.
Chelwood, L. Inglewood, L. St. Helens, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Jessel, L. St. Just, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Killearn, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Coleraine, L. Kings Norton, L. Sandford, L.
Cornwallis, L. Kinnaird, L. Sandys, L.
Cottesloe, L. Lauderdale, E. Saville, L.
Croft, L. Lloyd, L. Selkirk, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Long, V. Sempill, Ly.
Daventry, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Skelmersdale, L.
de Clifford, L. Lyell, L. Somers, L.
de Freyne, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Stamp, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Deramore, L. L. L.
Derwent, L. Mancroft, L. Strathspey, L.
Dundee, E. Marley, L. Suffield, L.
Dundonald, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tenby, V.
Ebbisham, L. Merrivale, L. Terrington, L.
Elles, B. Mersey, V. Teviot, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mills, V. Teynham, L.
Elton, L. Milverton, L. Thomas, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Molson, L. Tranmire, L.
Faithfull, B. Monck, V. Vickers, B.
Falmouth, V. Monson, L. Vivian, L.
Ferrers, E. Mottistone, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Glasgow, E. Westbury, L.
Glenkinglas, L. Moyne, L. Wolverton, L.
Grafton, D. Newall, L. Yarborough, E.

the opposite, but will they be wise, in the light of the arguments, to do so? I do not believe that they will be and I do not believe that, when it goes forth that this House has decided and decided only this, that a person who, for conscience other than religious belief, is dismissed from his employment can have from his employer, and only from his employer, compensation for unfair dismissal, this House need fear the verdict of public opinion. For that reason, I am bound to say that I am not convinced by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.

4.26 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 128; Not-Contents, 91.

Allen of Fallowfield, L. Gardiner, L. Maelor, L.
Ardwick, L. Geddes of Epsom, L. Maybray-King, L.
Arwyn, L. Gordon-Walker, L. Melchett, L.
Aylestone, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Balogh, L. Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Northfleld, L.
Beswick, L. Gregson, L. Oram, L.
Birk, B. Hale, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Blyton, L. Hall, V. Pannell, L.
Bradwell, L. Hanworth, V. Pargiter, L.
Brown, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Parry, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Henderson, L. Peddie, L.
Burntwood, L. Hirshfield, L. Phillips, B.
Burton of Coventry, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Champion, L. Hoy, L. Popplewell, L.
Collison, L. Hughes, L. Rhodes, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Jacobson, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Crook, L. Jacques, L. Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal)
Crowther-Hunt, L. Janner, L. Shinwell, L.
Cudlipp, L. Kirkhill, L. Slater, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Kissin, L. Snow, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Leather! and, L. Stedman, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Lee of Newton, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B. Leigh, L. Stow Hill. L.
Llewelyn-Davies, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Douglas of Barloch, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Loudoun, C. Wigg, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Winterbottom, L.
Feather, L. McCarthy, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Fulton, L. McLeavy, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Gaitskell, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

4.36 p.m.

Lord SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Freedom of the press

After section 1 of the principal Act there shall be inserted the following section:—

"Charter on freedom of the press

1A.—(1) If, before the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the passing of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1975, there is agreed among parties including employers of journalists (or employers' associations representing such employers), editors (or editors' organisations), and trade unions representing journalists, a charter containing practical guidance for employers, trade unions and editors and other journalists on matters relating to the freedom of the press, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of that charter. (2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, practical guidance on matters relating to the freedom of the press must include guidance on the avoidance of improper pressure to distort or suppress news, comment, or criticism, the application of union membership agreements to journalists (and in particu- lar the right of editors to discharge their duties and to commission and to publish any article) and the question of access for contributors. (3) If no such charter has been agreed as mentioned above, or if a draft charter laid before Parliament (under subsection (1) above or this subsection) is not approved by resolution of each House of Parliament as mentioned in subsection (6) below, the Secretary of State shall after consultation with the Press Council and such of the parties referred to in subsection (1) above, such organisations representing workers, and such organisations representing employers, as he thinks fit, prepare in draft a charter, as follows:—

  1. (a) where, or so far as, there appears to the Secretary of State to be agreement among the parties referred to in subsection (1) above on any matter relating to the freedom of the press, he shall incorporate in the draft charter such practical guidance as he thinks appropriate to give effect to that agreement;
  2. (b) where, so far as there appears to the Secretary of State to be no such agreement on any of the particular matters referred to in subsection (2) above, he shall incorporate in the draft charter such practical guidance on that matter as he thinks fit,
and the Secretary of State shall lay the draft charter before both Houses of Parliament. (4) A charter agreed as mentioned in sub-section (3) above, shall define its field of retary of State in accordance with sub-section (1) above, or prepared by the secoperation. (5) A charter agreed as mentioned in subsection (1) above, or prepared by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (3) above, shall provide for the constitution of a body which shall have the functions of—
  1. (a) hearing any complaint by a person aggrieved by a failure on the part of any other person to observe any provision of the charter;
  2. (b) issuing to the parties a declaration as to whether such a complaint is well-founded; and
  3. (c) securing the publication of its decision.
(6) If a draft laid under subsection (1) or (3) above is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall issue the charter in the form of the draft. (7) A charter for the time being in force under this section may be revised from time to time by agreement between such parties as are referred to in subsection (1) above, and the Secretary of State shall lay a draft of the revised charter before both Houses of Parliament. (8) If a draft laid under subsection (7) above is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall issue the revised charter in the form of the draft. (9) On issuing a charter or revised charter under subsection (6) or (8) above the Secretary of State shall make by statutory instrument an order specifying the date on which the charter or revised charter is to come into effect. (10) A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of a charter which is for the time being in force under this section shall not of itself render him liable to any proceedings, but in any proceedings—
  1. (a) any such charter shall be admissible in evidence, and
  2. (b) any provision of such a charter which appears to the court or tribunal to be relevant to any question arising in those proceedings shall be taken into account by the court or tribunal in determining that question."

The noble Lord said: May I remind the Committee of the procedures that we are adopting in regard to this Amendment? The text of the Amendment is of course precisely the same as that of the Commons suggested Amendments sent to us by another place under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911, which did not form part of the Bill. Those suggested Amendments we considered, as was our duty under the Parliament Act, when we gave this Bill a Second Reading. We did not, however, move that the Commons suggested Amendments should be agreed. If the suggested Amendments had been agreed at that stage, this new clause on Press freedom could not have been tabled and discussed as a normal Committee stage Amendment capable of becoming part of the Bill in the normal way. The chance for noble Lords to pass this Bill as a normal Bill, but containing some safeguards for Press freedom, without resort to the Parliament Acts would have been lost. Noble Lords will know well from what I said on Second Reading that this is a chance which I sincerely hope they will take, and that they will therefore agree to this Amendment today.

This new clause is of course substantially the same as that introduced by my noble friend Lord Houghton during the Committee stage in your Lordships' House on the original Amendment Bill as subsequently amended in both Houses on the proposal of the Government, or with their agreement. It provides for a charter giving practical guidance on matters relating to the freedom of the Press to be agreed by relevant parties within the Press industry, and to be given Parliamentary backing. The key matters relating to Press freedom on which guidance must be given are spelt out in subsection (2). The charter must also provide for a body to be set up to deal with complaints about non-observance of the charter's provisions. Moreover, the charter would, like the Industrial Relations Act's Code of Practice, have a status in legal proceedings to which it was relevant. It could therefore assist a person who took legal action to which the charter was relevant in winning his case.

Some changes have been made from the final version supported by the Government during the 1974–75 Session. Most of the changes are minor, drafting improvements. In particular, however, new provision is now made for the situation which might arise if Parliament did not approve a charter laid before it. The Secretary of State would, in these circumstances, be under a duty to pursue consultations on the preparation of an alternative version until one was produced which was acceptable to Parliament. The Government support all the provisions that are in this Amendment. They have been arrived at as a result of close co-operation between both Houses. I think that the contents of the Amendment are well known to Members of your Lordships' Committee, and I do not think I need go into any further detail on it. I hope that the Committee will agree to this Amendment so that this Bill may reach the Statute Book by our normal processes with the question of the Press fully dealt with in it. I beg to move.

4.40 p.m.


I do not know that we can let it go quite as simply as that. I was expecting the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to rise, which was the reason why I did not rise myself. While he is collecting his thoughts, may I say this to the Committee. I agree that the wise thing would be to pass this into the Bill. I confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just said about the position under the Parliament Act. I have made my criticisms of the proposed charter but, like the tribunal in the earlier part of the Bill about unjust exclusion and reasonable exclusion or expulsion which is proposed to be set up by the TUC, my belief is that, contrary to my better convictions about its value, it would be wise now to let it have a run.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, rises in his place, I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if, very briefly, and in the most general terms, I were to express the view of my noble friends on this Amendment. It is not quite in the form that we should have preferred it; particularly in relation to the point that, in our view, the freedom of the Press is one so basic as to mean that its preservation should be safeguarded in some way by law rather than that aggrieved persons under the charter concerning Press freedom should merely have the right to complain to some independent body or that the provisions of the charter should be admitted in evidence before a body of that kind, a court or a tribunal. However, our view and that of the majority of your Lordships was taken as far as it reasonably could be taken in the last Session of Parliament and it would not be appropriate, as we see it, to pursue that view further now.

Similarly, as regards this Amendment based on the proposition first put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, we do not propose to oppose it now. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, reminded us in our debate at Second Reading, there is built into this Amendment the safeguard that the draft charter to which it refers will eventually have to be approved by a Resolution of each House of Parliament. If, therefore, the Bill is passed there will be further opportunity for whatever charter emerges from the Bill later to be debated. I recall, too, in our discussions last year on the noble Lord's Amendment, that it was said that the half loaf that it represented was, at any rate, better than no bread at all. I recall that various estimates were then made as to what precise fraction of a loaf the noble Lord's Amendment amounted to.

May I say that, in my opinion for what it is worth, based on some experience of the practical difficulties of bringing the law into the field of industrial relations, it is anyway a large slice of bread. If there is one thing more than another in the industrial field which our country stands in need of today it is, in my view, that at least some measure of agreement should be sought and found between the main political Parties, on the one hand, and between the Government and both sides of industry, on the other, as to the main policies that should be followed. When it comes to the crunch we all tend to feel that any such agreement should be based upon our view rather than upon the view of the other fellow.

In this instance the policy involved is not one of our choosing, but we on these Benches have all along recognised that in introducing the original Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was trying, in a genuinely disinterested way, to bridge a gap between two sincerely held but differing opinions. It is in that same spirit that by noble friends and I should now like to give the policy involved in this Amendment a fair crack of the whip and we very much hope that it will prove successful in the event.


I do not know why my medical advisers are so benevolently disposed towards every Member of your Lordships' House as firmly to advise me to remain on my feet for a very short period. We have had a very low-key debate on the whole and that is probably a good thing. I think that it has been particularly distinguished by contributions from the Liberal Benches since the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, conforms so closely to Ruskin's famous definition of Gothic architecture, "petrified vertical motion"!


As chairman of the Ruskin Association it seems to me that the noble Lord has got the quotation totally wrong. If he is proposing to base his theme on that quotation in addressing your Lordships, he is without doubt wholly wrong.


I will be prepared to discuss the matter with the noble Lord afterwards, in the Library.


May I—

Several Noble Lords: Order, order!


May I say with the greatest respect, and despite the Conservative proposition that I should not be heard, that on the third Bench of the Liberal Benches I cannot hear what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has to say in relation to his introduction on Ruskin.


I can only say that for the noble Lord to be so alert as to interrupt and correct me, he does well in not having heard a word of what I said. But I do not think that Ruskin's views about Gothic architecture are fundamental to our discussion.


I should like—

Several Noble Lords: Order, order!


We are in the technological age and Ruskin does not count in this.


I hope that we shall not continue this exchange. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, had the Floor of the Committee and that we should now permit him to deliver his speech. I hope he will keep off Gothic architecture for a moment.


I give a solemn pledge not to mention Ruskin, architecture, or any cognate subject.

There are two matters on which I should like to touch in the course of what I assure your Lordships will be a brief speech. The first is the constitutional position and the second is the merits of the proposal. On the con- stitutional position, we have had a very interesting and enlightening discussion in the last few weeks about how the Parliament Act works, how the interchanges between the Houses operate and what can and cannot happen.

The last time I addressed your Lordships I made it clear that I was a confirmed constitutionalist and had no intention of challenging the supremacy of the other place. This I totally accept. Although I am a confirmed constitutionalist—indeed perhaps because I am one—I saw no reason why we should not be able to exercise the rights that we had under the Parliament Act; and if because of some accident, inadvertence or mistake the Act were to come into operation with a chunk of it we did not like still available to us to be rejected, I could see nothing unconstitutional in our operating that right. I may say that in the short time which has elapsed since my complete recovery from a recent indisposition, I have taken the best advice I can and the most respected and revered advice available in this Chamber, and I am informed that there is nothing remotely unconstitutional, irregular or contrary to precedent if we should decide not to accept the suggested Amendments sent from the other place. This is a right that we exercise.

The whole matter therefore turns simply on the merits. If we consider it is more meritorious and more to the advantage of the situation to reject those proposals, we have an absolute right to do so. There can be no resentment and no suggestion in the country that we have acted unconstitutionally or flouted the other place, that we are exercising a "built-in majority", whether it be Tory or anything else. We have a perfect right to decide to reject the suggested Amendments. I would emphasise that point because I do not propose this afternoon to ask your Lordships to reject the Amendments. What I am anxious to do is to test the feeling of the Committee after there has been the opportunity to hear certain arguments which so far have not been presented and which I shall make as briefly as possible.

There is one feature of this suggested code which is especially obnoxious to me and also to those newspaper colleagues who are associated with me in the conduct of the discussions we have had over many months. I may say that represents a very great majority of the editors of London and provincial papers and many other people associated with the Press. The feature we find wholly obnoxious and unacceptable, even if the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—a very worthy and conscientious idea of a Press charter —should be accepted, is that it should be drafted by a Cabinet Minister, a Member of the Government. We do not know of any civilised country where the Government intervene to prescribe a code for the Press. We regard this as a really hideous notion, which is contrary to all precepts of freedom and all ideas of freedom of speech and of expression. Even at this late stage I venture to invite the Government to consider whether that particular feature of this legislation—and it is not a fundamental or basic feature—might be withdrawn. That is the feature to which we consider basic objection can be taken legitimately. We think it should be withdrawn.

I should like to say that I do not propose to divide your Lordships this afternoon, but I am asking every Member of this Committee to consider whether, if the Government are unable to accede to this very modest request, it would not be appropriate for us to reject the whole of the charter regarding which this particular provision is so fundamental. That is a situation we may reach on Report stage. I do not say we shall necessarily reach it, because it will depend wholly on the amount of support which is likely to be forthcoming in this Chamber from those of your Lordships who have had the opportunity to weigh the situation. I shall not divide your Lordships on the basis that it is an empty gesture or a piece of futile defiance. I shall divide the House if I feel that enough people share my view that we ought not to have a Press code made for us by the Government, and that it would be a tragic thing in the history of British freedom of expression and freedom of thought if in1976 a Government official is to determine what is to go into the Press and how the Press is to be regulated. If the Government will withdraw that proposal at this stage I shall think it right to withdraw all further opposition.

We have had a good, long and honourable fight. We have been defeated by significant majorities in the other place, and it would be quite wrong to maintain that fight. But we have the constitutional right to reject this charter out of hand. That, I believe, is the only right we have: I do not think we have a right to amend the charter, because then it would be a question of again sending it back to the other place and resuming a discussion that ought to be concluded. But, while we have that right, I think it would be timid, pusillanimous and cowardly not to exercise it if, in the ultimate analysis, we are to be left with a charter which is to be drawn up by a Government Minister. It is really no help to say that it is a charter which has to be approved by both Houses. Having regard to the guidelines contained in the present Bill, once they are operated by a determined and dogged Minister—if I may say so, a Minister of the most obstinate, obdurate, disposition—there is very little doubt that his notions of what the Press charter ought to be will be carried into effect. We shall find ourselves in the utmost difficulty in getting any revisions.

It is right to say that I believe, at the conclusion of a long and by no means happy argument, that the Minister is a man of total sincerity—I have never suggested anything to the contrary—but he is a man totally incapable of changing his mind or of appreciating the implications of this matter which have dawned on a few of us who have taken part in these discussions. I am compelled to say that his latest performance in a speech made the other day only reaffirms this. I should like to quote some observations that he made on this matter which are highly relevant to the sort of charter he is likely to produce. He made a speech only yesterday, and perhaps I might quote to your Lordships: Mr. Foot said he repudiated charges made against the Bill that it curtailed the rights of editors, the rights of non-journalists to write for newspapers, and 'the right to work' of individual trade unionists. But let me admit also that, while many of these accusations are wild and malicious, some of them arise from genuine fears and genuine misapprehensions. The notion that these apprehensions might not be fanciful but valid, and based on a secure and well-founded fear that, if we allow this to happen, people will be prevented from writing and a very small union of 20,000 people, as a result of the Press charter, will find themselves in a position where it is unavoidable that the Institute of Journalists is destroyed, because the consequence of having this Press charter must inevitably be—and I can assure you of this from the discussions I have had—that the Institute of Journalists will have no chance of survival. If we dispense with the charter, then the Institute of journalists has a chance of surviving. Several newspapers might fight doggedly against the closed shop, except under conditions that would allow it to survive. If I may say so, that is something which will happen if there is no charter. If there is a charter, and a charter to be written by Mr. Foot, there is no prospect except that a perfectly worthy institute of 3,000 members will be totally immolated, for no reason except a principle that we do not regard as having sufficient validity to justify the carnage and damage.

This is what we are really concerned about. We are concerned that if there is a charter, it should be freely negotiated. Time and time again I heard the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, say with total sincerity that we did not need the law intervening in these matters. I shall not revive that debate, or comment again as I have commented before about the sad and strange situation where we decide to exclude the law from our transactions in 1976, in the belief that human affairs can be conducted without some legal coercion and some legal compulsion or protection. We have arrived at this conclusion. So be it. But if we do not need the law, why do we need Mr. Foot? If we are to accept the position that, as free men, we are able to negotiate a charter in free terms, let us negotiate it without Mr. Foot and let us spare Mr. Foot, with many arduous duties already falling upon him, from this particular additional one.

In my view, it is common sense and common reason that if there is to be a charter it should be one freely negotiated by the parties concerned. We have great support and encouragement for this view in current developments in the newspaper industry at the moment. In the last two or three months particularly, there have been very happy signs of trade union and employer negotiations being conducted between the parties towards a fruitful conclusion directed towards producing a safer and more secure Press. Great advances have been made in discussions, which I initially chaired until I was compelled to abandon them, and they were then brilliantly and successfully chaired by the deputy who took over. They have produced a result so that voluntarily, without the intervention of any Minister, without any assistance from well-meaning Governments and officials, there is an agreed, negotiated position where everyone has arrived at certain very firm principles as to how redundancy is to be dealt with, how casual labour is to be dealt with—matters which seem to have defied agreement for years. If we can arrive at this situation without the intervention of a Minister we can, I say hopefully, arrive at a situation where we do not need the intervention of a Minister as the ultimate arbiter as to what the charter is to be.

I conclude by saying that at the Report stage I will return to this. If the Government insist that there is to be a charter drawn by a Minister, I would venture to invite those who feel sufficiently strongly about the libertarian aspects of the matter to consider whether they would join with me in defeating this Amendment—something we have an absolute right to do. I do not ask anyone to make a decision until we have had a response from the Government.

I would point out something which I think it is right that I should point out. The original Amendment for a Press charter that my colleagues and I nut forward was to contain in unequivocal terms a provision that nobody was to be excluded or expelled from a trade union, from the newspaper union, without just cause. In short, the first principle of the Press charter was to guarantee that people should not be expelled from their profession or prevented from exercising their profession unless there was a valid ground for doing so. If it was unjust, then the charter was to give them protection. It is difficult to believe that there could be an honourable charter which did not contain that as a first provision. It is difficult to understand why it should be resisted, why anyone should not want that in the clearest terms. But after consideration it was deliberately resisted. I asked for that provision. In fact I went further. If that provision was inserted I was prepared to withdraw all my further objections, even the objection to the Secretary of State, because at least we should know that there was a clear-cut provision, and even the most ingenious and doctrinaire Secretary of State would require a great deal more ingenuity than a human being could command to remove the effect of those clear-cut words. That has been refused. There has been no suggestion that that would be agreed and in the circumstances if the charter remains adumbrated in that form with a provision that the Secretary of State is ultimately to draft the charter I think we should be failing in our duty if we did not take advantage of the constitutional opportunity which has been afforded to us to throw the charter out root and branch.

It would be an unfortunate thing if we did not seize that opportunity, if we do not get the very minor concession and safeguards for which we are asking. The issue has now been narrowed to an enormous extent. We are no longer asking about legal sanctions and legal restraints. We are prepared to accept that in a Chamber which contains at least two former Lord Chancellors, they can sit quiet and supine and accept the fact that the legal system which they have proclaimed and operated for years throughout their professional lives is one that need not be introduced into trade union affairs.

There may be some explanation of this mystery and we may hear it in due course. I have no doubt we shall hear in due course, when the matter of the nature of the legal profession comes before the Royal Commission, from the very same voices what an admirable system it is; how wrong it would be to make any change to it, and we may then be asked how it is that a system so admirable is totally unacceptable to the trade unions. I do not know what the answer to that will be; nor is it a totally relevant inquiry at this moment. But it is relevant to know how, at the same time as we are expelling the law, we are determined to have something which is just as powerful and perhaps more sinister than the law in the person of a Minister who is to be substituted for it.

I am sure I have remained longer on my feet than my doctors would want and, I am certain, longer than your Lordships would want. I would only say that I shall return, if necessary to be carried here by force from Nubians, to the Report stage in order to hear what reply the Government are to give and whether, if the reply is unsatisfactory, we shall all have screwed up enough courage to take advantage of the undoubted constitutional right and show the Government not that we are asserting some advantage by the Lords over the Commons, not that we wish to proclaim that the Second Chamber has better rights than the First Chamber or has rights in excess of what it is historically believed to have, but that we have a right to exercise the machinery and the powers of the Parliament Act if the Government contrive a situation where they are available to us to be exercised. But I hope we shall not have to enter into discussion. Even at this late hour I hone that Mr. Foot will remember that, in making his speech about the fanciful misapprehensions, he is not solely candid and ingenuous in making that statement. I hope he will remember that a great many of his colleagues, who, I think to their discredit, have remained supinely silent over this matter, nevertheless share my anxieties and the anxieties of a great many people about the passage of this Bill in its present form. Even though there is not the remotest possibility of persuading Mr. Foot to a contrary view, I hope that his colleagues may at this last moment stir themselves and remember that perhaps the liberties of England should take priority over political advantage and political convenience.

5.6 p.m.


I agree with a great deal, in fact almost all, of what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has said, but there are two points upon which I profoundly disagree. First, he does not need to go to the most revered and learned Member of this House to find support for his proposition that this House has an absolute right to do what it wishes within the terms of its own procedures. But that carries with it another responsibility which rests in this House, not in any collective sense but in the responsibility of each individual Member to do his or her duty as he or she may see it. The second point on which I disagree even more profoundly is that he is obsessed by Mr. Foot. Let us assume for a moment that Mr. Foot is just the reverse of the description given to him by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman—that he is not a person who is obstinate, one who having made up his mind will never change it. Let us assume that he is a person like the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, himself, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, the epitome of reason and sweetness, objectivity and nobility. I would still object to givng a combination of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, the powers which Mr. Foot seeks to take in this charter.

For me, freedom belongs to me and I have only a right to it to the extent to which I seek to attain and retain it, and indeed to widen it. I am astonished at the extent to which we are seeking to rely upon institutions at the expense of relying upon ourselves to exercise the freedom without which, for me anyway, life is not worth living. I live in North Staffordshire, and I had the great honour to live near, to know and constantly to converse with the late Josiah Wedgwood. He wrote a book,Forever Freedom. He started on the Liberal Benches, but he quickly realised the ridiculous political position in which he found himself and wisely joined the Labour Party. But whatever the subject, he was on the side of free men.

I am not going to flog the Jeffersonian concept, on whether it is more important to have newspapers or to have the law, to have Parliament; but I am sure that the free interchange of opinion, the expression of views, is an essential requirement to a flourishing democracy. I believe that to a major extent the crisis of our time is that the media as a whole are not discharging that duty. Newspapers, television or radio are today not discharging the duty which enables individuals of no great resource to discharge the first duty of any democrat or one who seeks to exercise a political function within a democracy, namely, the ability to make up one's mind on very limited evidence.

I would not give to any Minister or to any one man the power to exercise or have access to the potential power contained in this charter. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that this is not the job of Governments, however noble and good. Certainly, I do not trust the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, because I believe that all power tends always to corrupt. Noble Lords can complete that quotation for themselves; it is familiar to all of us. Therefore, I believe that the approach of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is wrong in principle, and if I wanted evidence I have listened to it today.

May I be frank? I intend to be frank, whether your Lordships want it or not. I was disgusted with the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. They made it impossible for a person like myself really to get at the innards of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. He started off in that banal, polite kind of way, "Of course, we all agreed with the way in which the noble Lord delivered his speech." I did not, and if the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had any political guts he would not, either.

I will enlarge upon the description of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I will not go to Ruskin or to architecture. I will fall back on a story often told me by my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who tried to earn an honest copper by writing for American journals. Whenever he came across a new word, he researched to find out what it meant, and he came across the word, "mug ump". He tried to discover what a mug ump was, and his search led him to the conclusion that it is an animal and its mug is on one side of the fence, and its wump is on the other. We found a perfect example in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was doing was asking the House of Commons to approve what the noble Lord behind me described as a rogues' charter. It was never thought through. Of course it was a political ploy. If noble Lords had listened very carefully, they would not have followed him into the Lobby.

What did he do at the conclusion of his speech? He talked about the Government in another place, with their machine-made majority. Machine-made majority, forsooth! Does that not apply to any Government or Opposition? What is Party politics about, but the ability of a Government to command a majority in the House of Commons; or of Mrs. Thatcher, on the other hand, even after the broadcast last night, finding one or two Tories to support her? That is what it is all about. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, having laughed at his own jokes, gets to the point where he makes a quip like that, he gives the game away. In the meantime, he has cast an aura of respectability over a perfectly legitimate political manoeuvre. But he is trying to make respectable a proposition which, when examined in the clear light of day, would make absolute nonsense of the relations between trade unions and workpeople and employers.

I ask your Lordships to think for a moment of a horny-handed son of toil, who has had a bad run at the dogs and wants a quick couple of hundred quid. What better than to develop a conscience, going along and saying, "Unless you sign on the dotted line, and unless I have a couple of hundred quid which can be left behind in the lavatory or given to me in an envelope, I am going to develop a conscience and will find a few others to do the same"? That is where this proposition will take us, and there has been more humbug talked about this Bill than enough. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, on spelling it out. But in relation to some of his associates in this political battle, I would say that birds of a feather do not flock together. However, the noble Lord has become respectable today, because he is associated with me, and if at Report stage he cannot find any other Teller to join him in the Lobby he can count on me, and when I say, "Count on me", I promise I will be there.

5.15 p.m.


I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was supporting the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in his very modest request and I should like to do the same. I should also like to feel that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will take heed of the point made by Lord Goodman. He based it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, on a matter of principle, but there is also a practical point behind it which ought to be taken into account. If this code is to be negotiated by the two sides affected by it, then they will have to come to some sort of conclusion—if they can come to a conclusion at all—which covers to some extent the views that both sides hold. But if either side feels that somebody has a power which will be used in a way which is more in keeping with what they want but have not been able to negotiate, then they will not come to an agreement. That argument would apply whether the present Minister in the other place was responsible, and where one side had doubts about his objectivity or impartiality, or whether, by some wonderful magic, he was replaced by another Minister in a different Government who was accepted by the newspaper proprietors' side but not by the unions. I believe that if we genuinely want this code to be negotiated by the people concerned, and get to a pitch where it is likely to be accepted by both sides, then we must not give either side the feeling that if they will not agree the job will be done for them by a Minister who they suspect may well have the same kind of thinking as themselves. This very practical part of negotiation is something which ought to be borne in mind, because many of us have had that experience in other fields. If it has been agreed that unless you can reach a mutual agreement somebody will be brought in as arbitrator, and if at the back of your mind you have the feeling that the arbitrator will be more likely to come down on your side than the other, it prevents a voluntary agreement being reached.

On those grounds, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will use his influence in getting accepted this very modest suggestion of the noble Lord. Bearing in mind the formidable arguments of the noble Lord on bigger issues than this during the passage of this Bill, if this very modest suggestion, which has both principle and practicality behind it, is not accepted, then it will cause many people, who up till now have said that the point of view held is not that of somebody wanting to be piratical or tyrannical in his approach, to feel that there may be some ulterior motive behind the whole thing. If this Bill is to come out looking clean in its intent, then I should have thought this modest suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, ought to have been accepted by the time we get to Report stage.

5.18 p.m.


I should have thought the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, would have made his stand and backed the other place in the Amendments which they have submitted to this House. I am surprised that he has gone the other way. Also, I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, talked about giving support to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who referred to Mr. Foot in the other place. One point that has been overlooked is that Mr. Foot is a political animal. He has lived politics for the greater part of his life, and that cannot be said for the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who belongs to a profession which is entirely different from that of a politician. It was very unfair of the noble Lord to make those charges against the Minister responsible for introducing the Bill, and for considering the Amendments which went from this place to the other place, and which were turned down and sent back for further consideration here.

I sincerely hope that noble Lords took note of what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said in conclusion. He said, "I have only this to say", and he then went on for another quarter of an hour. The noble Lord talks about repetition and about coming back at Report stage. Will there be repetition of the tripe that he has tried to put over today? Does the noble Lord have a vested interest? It is about time that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and other people who are sitting on the Cross-Benches had second thoughts about entering the political arena and about what it stands for and means to the general public in this country, instead of coming along and arguing the case, as they have sought to argue it on this occasion, away from the legal profession. No closer amity exists than that within the legal profession. It is like that which exists in the medical and economic fraternities. Therefore, I hope sincerely that they do not get their own way and that we shall fight this issue on the Floor of the House. Let the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, come back at Report stage. We shall be here to listen to a repetition of what he has said in his speech.


After listening to my noble friend Lord Wigg, I am confirmed in the opinion that the eccentricities which many of us had in another place become more noticeable when we come to your Lordships' House. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, understands what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is proposing to do. He is proposing to remove from the charter the only provision which makes the charter necessary at all as part of the Bill. If there is not to be the ultimate sanction, so to speak, of the Secretary of State to be there in the event of failure to agree, then there is no need to include in an Act of Parliament any exhortation to both sides to get together. They can do it of their own free will; there is no need to include it in the Bill.

We shall have to consider whether the charter remains part of the Bill or whether it is to be completely thrown out. However, I do not intend to anticipate the debate which obviously the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, will begin at Report stage. However, I am bound to say that if he intends to come back to this point, some of us will have to go back to the beginning and remind your Lordships why it was ever proposed that a charter should be inserted in the Bill. It was proposed because the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and other noble Lords wanted so many additional legal provisions to be included in the original Bill that some of us got together to discover a means of avoiding more and more legal intervention in industrial relations and a means whereby joint consultation and negotiation might lead to an agreement; and in default of an agreement the Secretary of State for Employment would then have a statutory duty to perform. It is in that framework that one has to consider whether this is a modest proposal. Let us fully understand that this is a wrecking proposal of the charter as it stands in the Bill at the present time.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way because I want to say—it is of some importance —that it is not the case that if we take out this provision there is nothing left in the charter which needs to be included in an Act of Parliament. It will be remembered that we have left the charter in the situation where there is no legal redress, but there are other forms of redress which have been put into the charter and which, whether we like it or not, we are now prepared to accept. Hence the charter would need to be included in the Act of Parliament if it is to retain that shape and to have won, as the Government did win, the very protracted argument about the exclusion of legal remedies.


I am obliged to the noble Lord and I shall not follow his intervention because I do not wish to prolong the debate. However, it is obvious that when the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, comes back to this matter he will virtually reopen the long discussions we have had on this subject to arrive at the point where we are now, where the charter is a combination of the wisdom of this House and another place and is put to your Lordships' House as a suggestion from the House of Commons as meeting the wishes of another place and of the Government, and as hoping to meet the majority view of your Lordships' House. But clearly the debate is going on and on, and if this is the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I give him fair notice that I shall play my part in it.


I wonder whether I may try to pour a little oil on this troubled water?


And not for the first time!


First of all, this is about as far as we can take the discussion this afternoon, except that either the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble Lord the Leader of the House might perhaps give us a little constitutional advice. I am going to tender my own view of the point which we have reached and if I am wrong I am sure that it would be helpful if I were contradicted. As I see it, the debate arises in this way. In order to comply with the Parliament Act, the Government must introduce the Bill into another place in the form in which it was originally introduced. Therefore it could not contain what I will call now the Houghton Charter. What another place can do under the Parliament Act is to put in what is called a suggested Amendment which is written into the Bill in this House. If it does, it does not obstruct the operation of the Parliament Act because it is a suggested Amendment for which special provision is made in the Act of 1911. What we are discussing now is something which has not happened since 1911. We are discussing, I think for the first time in the history of Parliament, whether to write into the Bill a suggested Amendment in that sense. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has made two quite separate suggestions and I think that they have two quite different constitutional consequences. The noble Lord says that he is not going to have a Division this afternoon and I am sure he is right about that. If he is right about that and nobody else divides the House, which is what I have recommended, the suggested Amendment will then be part of the text of the Bill, and there will be a Report stage because the Bill will have been amended.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, wants something which has been described by various terms—as a "modest Amendment" and as "wrecking Amendment". He wants to leave out the reference to the Secretary of State because of what he said about the Secretary of State. If he wishes he can, unless I am mistaken, propose an Amendment to that effect at Report stage. It will then go down on the Marshalled List and be discussed in the ordinary way. If it were carried, I think it would have to go back to the House of Commons. It is not an Amendment which we have a constitutional right to insert into the Bill and leave there, because if the suggested Amendment is not accepted in its entirety and without alteration it has to go back to the House of Commons for discussion there. If, of course, the Government in the House of Commons rejected the Amendment to the suggested Amendment, that would be the end of it because We have no further powers in the matter. Therefore, what one will have to discuss at some stage is whether the Government are prepared to accept the suggested Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, otherwise we shall be wasting our time.

Obviously, we cannot take the matter much further this afternoon. If between them the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the Government can arrive at some kind of formula which modifies the suggested Amendment, I certainly will not I put any difficulty in their way, but I think that we ought to be very careful about rejecting the suggested Amendment—when I talk about the "suggested Amendment", I am referring to the Houghton Charter—for this reason. Although it was no part of the Bill as originally proposed by another place, in fact it embodies what a great number of people want to see as the law. I have expressed my own criticisms of it and I do not retract them, but I think we must consider the general effect on public opinion. I am not afraid of a row between the other place and ourselves about this because the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is perfectly right: if we do not write the suggested Amendment into the "Houghton charter"—into the Bill—then it will not be part of the Bill and the Bill will go through under the Parliament Act without it. But we must consider the matter with a great deal of care before we take that step.

What I was going to suggest was that possibly the noble Lord the Leader of the House will comment on what I have just said, and also will say whether between now and Report stage there cannot be a discussion between the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House—because it is not a matter in which I would wish, nor, I think, would my noble friends wish, to take any part. I must warn the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that I might find it difficult to persuade some of my noble friends to vote with him in the Lobby, either on sending a second matter back to the Commons or on rejecting the proposed Amendment. I say that with reluctance because we have worked together with great amity and in alliance with each other throughout the Bill and what I suggest is based on a political assessment of the situation and without doubting for an instance the reaction to the proposed charter of members of the profession with which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has been so closely in touch.

I remind them, and him, of two things. The first is that any charter written by the Secretary of State has to have the approval not only of the other place but also of this House, which would not be a foregone conclusion if it contained objectionable provisions. The second concerns one factor which I was not sure that I had got straight in my mind as to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was saying. He said that if the Secretary of State wrote out a charter of his own it would be lethal to the Institute of Journalists. I do not want to enter into journalistic politics because I do not understand them and I am quite unqualified to do so, but it occurs to me that even if he rejected the charterin toto, under the Bill he still would be in no better positionvis-à-vis that matter. To my mind his hope has always been that we might be able to persuade the Government to introduce legal sanctions behind it—which we have failed to do. The second hope was that one day this Parliament, like other good or bad things, will come to an end and we shall have a Government which will be more sensitive to some of the arguments which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.

In the meantime, I commend to him and his friends the thought which I tried to start when he was collecting his thoughts, that certainly on these Benches, and without in any way retracting our position, we have thought it right not to interfere with the proposed trade union tribunal on the issue of unreasonable expulsion or admission and it might be wiser and more sensible to take a similar line about this charter, notwithstanding the views which I know are deeply held.

There is something which has caused disquiet, and I do not know whether either of the two noble Lords would think it appropriate to comment upon it or whether they would prefer not to comment. Certainly I have been written to three times by the Institute of Journalists during the last ten days, complaining that there was a move by one of the branches of the NUJ to persuade a local authority—Barnsley—to withhold information from members of the Institute. I cannot help thinking that the central organisation of the NUJ might be wise to discourage action of that kind because, quite apart from any other considerations, the freedom of access by all working journalists to sources of information is something to which many of us would attach a good deal of importance in this connection. I have said what I can. I am sure we would be wrong to press this to a conclusion today and I am wondering whether the Government could either confirm or correct my views as to the constitutional position and possibly add any other comments they might think were useful.

5.35 p.m.


I have always contended that the gap between those who support the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and those who support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the Government is bridgeable; I still believe that is so, despite some of the observations made by some of the supporters of the respective sides this afternoon. I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will appreciate fully the great step forward that has been taken this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in seeking to reach agreement; he has indicated that he would not desire to persist in his argument that the charter should be legally enforceable. That is a great step forward which removes one of the stumbling blocks to agreement.

The other suggestion that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is that there should be a very simple Amendment to the existing Amendments, which would merely be to omit subsection (3), the power of the Minister. I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will consider carefully the argument which was developed, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls; that is, that the existence of that fall-back power might prove a positive disincentive to the parties to agree upon the terms of a charter. I am sure the Government will recognise, as they have on previous occasions, that if a charter can be voluntarily agreed between all the parties that is an infinite improvement upon any possible charter that might be imposed by any outside source, quite irrespective of who the Minister may happen to be at a particular time. We on these Benches venture to echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that serious consideration might be given to this proposal, in the hope that at long last an agreed solution might be reached at Report stage.


It is in fear and trepidation of my noble friend Lord Wigg that I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that perhaps we have taken this matter as far as we can this afternoon. The procedure that we have adopted—that is, moving this Amendment in Committee—was to ensure that if we were to see this Bill on to the Statute Book by our normal processes and without the use of the Parliament Act, then by moving the Amendment in Committee it becomes part of the Bill. Whatever we may do in regard to this Amendment and right up to the very stage—and one foresees (shall we say?) the worst case in which the Parliament Act procedure had to he adopted—up to the very moment of the processes being brought into operation in the Commons and by the Crown on the advice of the Speaker, this suggested Amendment from the Commons is standing in isolation in limbo outside the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, up to that very last moment, whatever may be happening, it is open to this House by a Resolution to agree to the Commons suggested Amendment, in which case it goes straight into the Bill, wherever the Bill may be. If the Bill is in the House of Commons it still goes into the Bill; it does not have to come here.

So we have a great deal of flexibility, but we have adopted this procedure in the hope that we could get the material into the Bill and pass the Bill without the Parliament Act. I have a feeling that this is still very much the wish of the Committee. I was interested in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, developed the argument on what we now call the "Houghton Amendment". I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, will remember a number of my speeches where I have said time and time again that it really was not the right role of Ministers to be involved in matters concerning the Press. This was one of the basic arguments I had against the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in regard to the various legal sanctions that he was pressing upon this House. I have no doubt at all that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is the very last person who would wish to have placed upon him by Statute any requirement for dealing with laying out a charter for the Press. It was put in, therefore, in recognition of the fact that the two sides might fail to reach agreement upon the charter.

Originally, we said six months; we extended it to 12 months, recognising this particular problem, and the House agreed to 12 months. Only in the case of failure of both sides to reach an agreement upon the charter would the Secretary of State have any decision in this matter, and whatever he may propose would be open to agreement between the two Houses. If there was disagreement, then the Secretary of State has to take the charter back and work on it again after consultation with both sides of industry.

I was asked whether I would look at the matter. Of course I will. But I do not want to mislead the Committee in this matter. A great deal of work went into this particular subject. It is there because there was real, genuine concern about certain matters in the Industrial Relations Bill as it might affect the freedom of the Press. So we put it in, and did so with a degree of reluctance. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, came from his own initiative; it had nothing at all to do with the Government. So it is there. Many Members in both Houses have been involved in it. A great deal of time and research has gone into it. Therefore, I should not like to say we ought to give special consideration to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. It can be seen by some as a wrecking procedure, for if one side was not prepared to agree to a charter, then there would be no charter. I do not take the sense of both Houses in this matter that that is what they would wish to see. However, I will look at the matter because I have been invited to do so by the noble Lords, Lord Wigoder and Lord Goodman, but I would be misleading the Committee if I were to give any sense of optimism to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.

This has been a debate of good humour. I must say I feel a sense of gloom and despondency creeping over me that we have to deal with this matter yet again on another day. I feel like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone—I am slightly "cheesed off" about it, but this is the Constitution and we must go through with it. I would hope we could deal with it with some expectation of getting down to some matters which are just as relevant and important, but matters which we have not discussed as exhaustively as we have this particular matter.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

In the Title:


I beg to move the Amendment in the Title.

Amendment moved— Line 4, at end insert ("and to provide for a charter on matters relating to the freedom of the press").—(Lord Shepherd.)

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.

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