HL Deb 02 March 1976 vol 368 cc921-47

3.49 p.m.

Debate on Amendment No. 1 resumed.


My Lords, I was very surprised when last week the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, raised the question of the position of the Secretary of State in this charter, and looked to the Government for some favourable response to his suggestion that the Secretary of State should be dismissed from the scene. The Secretary of State has been in this charter right from the beginning, and no one has so far taken him out. With all the other Amendments to the charter in its original form, no Amendment was proposed in this House to remove the Secretary of State from his responsibilities under the proposed charter. Last Thursday I said that if such an Amendment were brought forward at the Report stage today I would oppose it as a wrecking Amendment, notwithstanding that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, described it as a modest proposal. But I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, now realises how fundamental is the proposition that was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.

Without the Secretary of State there is no court of appeal from the discussions on industrial relations which the charter lays it upon all sides of industry to have. I shall enlarge on that just for a moment. The beginning of this charter was the feeling on all sides of the House that industrial relations in the newspaper industry were too important to be left entirely to the parties directly concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and others proposed that the public interest should be safeguarded by introducing into the Bill itself statutory safeguards, with statutory sanctions in the event of breaches of the safeguards that were to be embodied in the Bill. Now we had had so much experience of the futility of endeavouring to regulate industrial affairs by statute that it struck me that there was perhaps an alternative to statutory intervention in the normal course of industrial relations in the newspaper industry, and that that might be a code of conduct, a charter, a code of guidance or something of that kind which would impose a framework and certain disciplines upon the parties to settle matters among themselves to the satisfaction of some third party who would represent the public interest.

My Lords, I took the idea of this charter from the early sections of the Industrial Relations Act 1971. It was a slab of the 1971 Act which represented good sense in industrial relations. In framing the charter, I not only took it as the inspiration: I copied the words which were in the 1971 Act and which were translated into the main Act of the Labour Government of 1974. So it had quite respectable origins; and the idea of it was that it was better if agreement could be reached by discussions directly between the parties concerned provided there was someone in the background to take care of the public interest. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has said, the Secretary of State does not come into this matter until everything else has failed. If there is an agreed charter, the Secretary of State has no duty beyond laying it before both Houses of Parliament. He cannot interfere with it. If it is an agreed charter, an agreed code of conduct, it comes to both Houses of Parliament and is laid before both Houses of Parliament by the Secretary of State.

However, if there is failure to agree, then quite obviously there must be power in such circumstances to refer to some third party, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has not come before this House at any stage with proposals for the setting up of some court of arbitrament, or some tribunal, which would have the responsibility to resolve differences between the parties. It seemed to me that throughout the discussions on the Bill the noble Lord had been content, or reasonably content, with the functions prescribed for the Secretary of State. If there is disagreement, failure to agree, on a charter, then the Secretary of State comes into it, and then he must pay attention to two things. He must pay attention to the matters upon which there is agreement—he is not asked to interfere with them—and he must pay attention to the matters upon which there has not been agreement. In regard to those, he has to formulate his own proposals and then, after he has discharged his responsibilities, he has to bring the revised charter for the approval of both Houses of Parliament. This is where the public interest is safeguarded. Those who say that industrial relations in the newspaper industry cannot be treated as if they are industrial relations in any other industry must be prepared for disciplines, they must be prepared for guidance and they must be prepared for the final arbitrament of Parliament—and that is all contained in the proposed charter.

I know that Lord Goodman, while accepting the principle of the charter as we went along in our numerous and long discussions on this matter, sought to introduce into the charter certain stipulations, not as to matters that should be considered but as to matters which should be predecided. His stipulations were to require the code of conduct to contain certain provisions, and he has enumerated them on many occasions. The charter as it stands says that consideration must be given by the parties to these various matters, but the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said that they must be put in the charter beyond peradventure and beyond argument. He said that Parliament must put them there by embodying them in the charter itself; and that is what the other place rejected, although this House agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in that approach. So the charter comes to us without stipulations, without the right of statutory intervention in the industrial relations of the newspaper industry save for that provided for by the position of the Secretary of State.

It surprises me that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, should regard the position of the Secretary of State as some kind of imposition, as some form of intervention by a wicked man, an evil spirit, into the whole scenery of discussion on industrial relations in the newspaper industry. The Secretary of State is there in his Ministerial capacity, because it seemed to me when I drafted this charter that there was nowhere else for that responsibility to go. If there was to be anyone responsible to both Houses of Parliament for laying a charter before both Houses, it seemed to me that the Minister was the right person; and unless, as an alternative to him, there was to be a tribunal to try to resolve disagreements and take the final responsibility of laying a charter before Parliament, I could not see how we could escape placing that function and responsibility upon the Secretary of State. But it is a very limited one. The Secretary of State can come into the matter in any interventionist form only in that area in which there is disagreement between the parties. That is all; and that, I hope, would be extremely narrow, if it arose at all—and we all profoundly hope that it will not arise at all.

My Lords, I conclude by saying this. If the charter is thrown out of the Bill, I do not know what may happen to it, but my guess is that the Bill will then pass into law without the charter in it. That I think, would be a great sadness, and surely it would be a denial of the first propositon from which we began, when we said that industrial relations in the newspaper industry cannot be left to the normal processes of negotiation, as in all other industries; thus the public interest must be safeguarded; and that the freedom of the Press, the public interest in it and all the rest of it should somehow be provided for in this Bill. If we reject the charter, these things will not be provided for. The newspaper industry will then be left in the very condition which, on all sides of the House, we tried to avoid: the position that there is no regulation, no discipline, no charter, no guidance, no public interest safeguarded and no power of intervention by either House of Parliament.

The public interest has to take its place along with the public interest in industrial relations, in the railway industry, in the milling industry, in the transport industry, and in all other industries. That is not where we hoped to leave the matter when this Bill left this House. It would be, I think, a sad and retrograde step for this House to turn back on all that we built up over these months and say that we would rather go back to the beginning with nothing than have the charter in the Bill with its imperfections and its shortcomings as have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.

My final words are these. This House has a very grave responsibility this afternoon in deciding whether this charter remains in or is thrown out. I hope that all noble Lords will weigh carefully the possible consequences of what they may do this afternoon. We have a collective responsibility. If I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, our responsibilities are not identified in any way with any section of the industry. We are looking at the general interest of the public, the general interest of the industry and of those who work in it and who serve the freedom of the Press. That, if I may say so with great respect, is a wider perspective than perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, feels entitled to bring to bear on his special responsibilities in this matter. I hope this House will approve this charter and then let us see what happens. I sincerely believe that the consequences of passing it will be far more favourable than the consequences of rejecting it.


My Lords, we on these Benches are quite determined that any charter that is produced shall give proper protection to the right of individual jounalists, to the rights of editors, to the rights of outside contributors and of the Institute of Journalists to lead its own separate existence. What causes us a little hesitation this afternoon is whether, in all the circumstances, it is still necessary, believing as we do that this House should divide on the issue now before us.

I venture to put this to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, for his consideration simply in this way. The Bill provides in terms that any such draft charter, before it can become effective, must receive the approval of a resolution of this House. That—and the noble Lord the Leader of the House will correct me if I am wrong —is in no way subject to the provisions of the Parliament Act. That amounts to giving this House an indefinite veto over any charter of which your Lordships do not approve. In those circumstances I would suggest that the important matter this afternoon is quite simply that we should make it abundantly clear as a House that we will not tolerate and will not approve any form of charter that comes before us in the future unless it gives the essential protection of the fundamental rights which I have referred to.


My Lords, as many noble Lords on these Benches have gone a long way with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in this debate over many months, I thought that one voice should be heard rehearsing briefly where we started and where we have got to and what I myself think is the right thing to do now. I think it is important to re-state in this House that when this debate began, it was your Lordships who presented, for the purposes of 1975/76, a radical view as opposed to the other place who, with great respect, represented a conventional view. In other words, I think that noble Lords were absolutely right to place the greatest possible emphasis on the principle of freedom to publish, to speak and to write. It was our duty to do so and we did so within the terms of constitutional possibility with great success. If any noble Lord should doubt what I am saying, I would suggest his reading again, after all this is over, the moving speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, on 11th March 1975, when he started from the premise that a journalist is part of an industry but that in another sense he is something quite different.

That is what those who have supported the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, have been thinking of all along. One is bound to say in all graciousness that the Government have responded, with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in great degree though possibly not in totally sufficient degree—to what we have been arguing.

Probably the country does not know how much it owes to this House for this persistence. In the written Press there have been adequate accounts; but I feel that the audio media and the audio-visual media have not given this subject the space or sympathy that in their own interests they should have done. I do not know why. I listen regularly to "Today in Parliament", and I also watch a good deal of political debate on television and I cannot feel that this issue received the amount of space and time that it should have received.

Having said that, I would add that, on certain issues, had they come to the crunch, I would have been ready to vote against the Government even if it involved the Parliament Act. But on the basis of the few words that I have just said, I must say to my noble friend Lord Goodman that I do not feel this to be the right issue on which to do anything of this kind. The reason for that is I am sure that all the media would have some justification in using as their headlines, spoken or written, "House of Lords vetoes Charter" I am sure that is not our desire. We may find the charter to be imperfect. I am sure it is imperfect, like most of the works of man; but it is probably as near right as we shall get. For that reason and particularly after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who has just sat down, I feel that the right thing would be not to divide the House at this stage, because it would be the wrong point on which to divide.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, if I heard the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, aright, he said that his mind was not completely made up whether or not to divide the House. I will help him because I have made my mind up sonic time ago on what should happen. Of course, the House should divide—but not for the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who I do not think is quite right in saving that the House has a collective responsibility. This is not the House of Commons. There is not a machine-made majority through the exercise of the Whips on either side of the House. There is a case on this issue where it is a matter of extreme doubt. Both sides have changed their views or modified their views. We have heard from the noble Lord the Leader of the House how reluctant Ministers are to accept the duties imposed upon them by this charter if they are driven to that position. I am the last person to want to drive Ministers into any position, even when I am sure I am right—and generally when I speak it is with that conviction. I do not want to drive them.

My Lords, there is an easy solution. This is a matter in which opinions are nicely balanced. Let us therefore have a free vote! Let us have the Whips off! Let us not exercise a collective responsibility which is not vested in this House. I do not regard myself as being part of a collective vote. I am here to speak the truth as I see it and to exercise my judgment. But, above all, in not only by what I say but what I do, my vote matches my voice. We have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, as dangerous a doctrine as was ever enunciated in a free Parliament. He said that in the case of the Press there is an important issue of the public good. I agree. Would any noble Lord on either side of the House tell me of any industry where the same argument does not apply? It would apply to the miners, to the electricians, to the port workers, and to the steel workers. If we are going to say, as Lord Houghton said this afternoon, that in fact in dealing with the Press we are dealing with a matter of such paramount importance that you must have discipline, the same words could have been used by Mussolini—and indeed were!—and I suppose might include his more liberal doubts, not of course that I am suggesting that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, shares views even remotely the same.

In regard to my political thinking, it is axiomatic that there are those with whom I disagree. I regret to say that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on this point. I do not think he is wicked. I am far too charitable for that. I think he is stupid. If you examine the argument he pursues you see just how stupid it becomes. This is because he tells the truth but not the whole truth. The piece of verbal knitting that is enshrined in the charter had its origin not because the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, communes with the Almighty but because there was a row in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Manifesto Group were exerting pressures and meetings were taking place—I was not at any of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, "i" comes before "o"; so the Intelligence Service told some of us what was going on. There were meetings between this group and that group, and the charter is what has emerged.

My objection to the charter can be easily explained. I opposed the Industrial Relations Bill, although there was much of it with which I agreed, because I was opposed in principle to the intervention of Government—any Government—in matters between employers and employees. In my judgment these matters should at all times be left to be hammered out, and the nearer to the factory floor that they are hammered out the more likely there is to be a solution. But notice what happens. When the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, wants to find a sacred principle, a form of words that are impeccable and cannot he challenged, where does he go? Pack to the Tory Party Industrial Relations Act, and he produces that trick from his sleeve as if it is really the joker. Your Lordships should note that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, was moving his Amendment at an earlier stage he did exactly the same, not to the Industrial Charter but to the Standing Orders of the Labour party.

So this is now like a Chinese football team, they change sides at half-time. In other words, we are engaged in a piece of political jiggery-pokery, a piece of expediency. But what are we playing with? We are playing with a stick of dynamite. We are playing with the liberty of the subject, the freedom of the individual in an area of the mind, of the spirit. My objection to this Bill concerns the Minister. I have said before that even if the Minister were someone as noble as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham—and I cannot say more than that—I would still object. The Minister could be drawn from the heavenly host and I would still object. Parliament and Ministers should keep out of this field.

I believe in the closed shop. This divides me from almost every noble Lord on the other side of the House, although I do not believe that in principle it divides me from the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I believe in the closed shop on one condition—that there shall be no oppression of the individual, which means that the relations in a particular industry shall be arrived at from negotiation between employers on the one side and employees on the other. I do not want a scabs charter, a method whereby individuals can bring pressure for personal advantage. I believe in orderly plants. I believe in the closed shop as a safeguard for both employers and employees, but on that condition.

Let me move on to the charter itself. What I will not have at any price is that a decision about the freedom of the Press, or any other freedom for that matter, shall rest in the hands of any Minister. That is not where personal freedom should reside. If it does so a time will come, not within the Labour Administration, not when the Minister of Employment is anyone as liberal as my friend Michael Foot, but when somebody else has control. That is what we are deciding today. I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—he is the chairman of the Commission—that that is not an accident if the Press, our free Press, are to be believed; it may even be a certain amount of inspiration. On the other hand, it may be a little bit of guidance. We are to receive a recommendation that public money is going to be given to political Parties. I am utterly opposed to that too.




My vote will go with my voice. I believe in free institutions. The political progress which has been made in my lifetime, the improvement in the conditions of the class into which I was born and to which I am proud to belong, has come about because of the existence of those free institutions. If those institutions are not operating this is no place for me. I joined the Labour Party over 50 years ago, and I am a paid-up member. Unlike a considerable number of other people I did not wait to join the Labour Party until I became ennobled. All my life I have stood and fought for it, and I am fighting for the same things now as I fought for when I was a small boy. That is why, even if mine is the only vote, I will divide the House this afternoon.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, if for no other reason than the revelations on the television programme introduced about a month ago by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont (who is not here today) and which some of your Lordships may have seen. If you did so you will surely have been startled by the interview granted to a prominent member—I do not for one moment say a typical member—of the National Union of Journalists, in which this member gave as his opinion that the Army and the police force in this country ought to be abolished and replaced by a "workers' militia". My Lords, do we really want to entrust the future of minority unions and, even more important, the future of the freedom of the Press in this country to such people? We know (do we not?) that the influence of extreme Leftists in unions is out of all proportion to their actual numbers. If we vote to delete this clause today it will prevent the public from having reassuring wool pulled over their eyes, and give public opinion time to mobilise—as it assuredly will—in favour of the protection of minority unions and in favour of the freedom of the Press. My Lords, I hope your Lordships will in large numbers follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, into the Division Lobbies.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, if I should prove inaudible or unintelligible, probably both. I hope the House will forgive me because I am in the middle of a bout of 'flu which, like humbug, may be said to be pervasive. I almost feel in an arbitral position in this debate because my attitude to the charter in its present mutilated form is exactly like the Scots deserter described the holy water on Mount Athos, "I will do you no harm; it will do you no good", so that I can observe this debate which has moved occasionally from irrelevance to acrimony with a certain degree of detachment. But I cannot fail to feel the cockles of my heart warmed by the tribute paid to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and respond to it in the like spirit in which it was offered. He asked for a free vote. So far as the Conservatives are concerned he shall have one.

There is relatively little that I wanted to add but there are one or two points which I think the House should gather up. In the first place I think that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is under a misapprehension about one constitutional point—if I am wrong about this I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will correct me as he is in a position to do. It is of course true that with the conscience Amendment which we discussed on Committee the House of Commons will have an opportunity of seeing this delightful piece of legislation once more but it will not, with respect, have an opportunity of reconsidering this suggested Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I think is mistaken in that. If we were to reject it it could not put it back in, and if we were to pass it it would not have it back to keep it, so that it cannot have it again on this Amendment. Let us be quite clear about that.

Secondly, on the constitutional point, I do not think that any constitutional issue between the two Houses either can or does arise in any way over this particular issue because, as the noble Leader of the House correctly said, the Parliament Act involved the Government in producing for Second Reading in another place a Bill which was (except for Amendments which had been agreed) identical with that produced for the first time for Second Reading during the Session before. As no Amendment to this effect had been agreed, it had to take the form of a suggested Amendment, which is what the Parliament Act provides for if the House of Commons wants to invoke its procedure and at the same time put forward a possible modification. So we are perfectly free either to accept this Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, or to reject it. Perhaps I might just say in passing that I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Hartwell on one of the shortest, most concise and pertinent maiden speeches I have ever heard. I should like to say at once to him, as an old and valued personal friend, that I hope the congratulations he will receive, should he repeat his breach of virginity on another occasion, will be as warm as my feelings for him have always been.

This Amendment would remove any possibility of a charter finding its place in this legislation. It was originally inserted as a concession to the Press and to those who had doubts about this Bill, at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. If the Press do not want it—and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has said that he does not want it—I cannot see why anyone should cling to it with such enthusiasm as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has done. On the other hand, if one feels as much confidence as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, feels that without the assistance (benign or otherwise) of Mr. Foot, he could come to a perfectly good agreement on behalf of the publishers with the other elements in the industry, I cannot see why he should object to it, because Mr. Foot will not come into it at all. However, the Press do not want it and they say it is a menace; and all I would say plainly at this point is that so far as we on these Benches are concerned we feel that noble Lords should vote as they please.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, it is good to hear that the freedom to vote is still being maintained on this side of the Chamber and, from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, it is clear that he is retaining the right for himself on the other side of the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to my comment that what was asked for last time by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was modest. Indeed it was certainly very modest, and it is because that modest request has not been granted that it makes me think that we really have to look rather deeper than the usual excellent speech by the noble Lord the Leader of the House would otherwise have caused us to do.

We have tried all sorts of ways of putting teeth into this Bill in order to preserve the freedom of the Press. No one has tried harder than my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham to get a conscience clause and other statutory things inserted where we could be certain that this would not be handing over power to a certain section of people—, in this case the National Union of Journalists—who had not really exhibited the responsibility that ought to go with such power. If the Minister has power to prepare the code in the absence of agreement, to accept as a last move—as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, did—that he would negotiate a settlement in so far as he had any power with the people whom he represents was really modest. I could not understand it when it was not accepted. I think that from the Government's point of view it would have shown that they were not being "hard liners" on this for reasons which I, at any rate, do not understand.

I believe that if we have put in that the code can be prepared by the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has referred to, this is bound to strengthen one side or the other in the negotiations and encourage them to be more intransigent than they would have been if they knew that such an alternative was not there. I am convinced in my own mind that the proprietors or the publishers on the one hand would not really have confidence if a Minister who has been so firm on this so far was the one who had the power to decide what the ultimate code would be. I am equally certain that if there was a change of Government and another Minister was given this power, the National Union of Journalists would not accept from a Party they would say were responsible for the Industrial Relations Act their power to prepare the code. I am convinced that if the Minister is given this ultimate power to prepare the code in the absence of agreement, it is a certain way of saying," You won't get that agreement". Therefore, if we want them to negotiate a code I believe it would be right to accept this modest request which was made last time to have the power of the Minister withdrawn from it.

That apparently is not acceptable and will not be agreed. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, now wants to remove the whole of the subsection which would have the effect, as I understand it from my noble and learned friend, that the code would not then be included in the Bill. I wonder whether that would matter, because, for instance, that may well meet the doubts which were voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who said, as, I understood him, that he was rather inclined not to push this to a vote because at the end of the day this House would have the power of veto, that that would give him a feeling of contentment and that he would let it go without pressing the matter. But if the code is not included and if, because the power of the Minister is not included, you are more likely to get an agreement which is acceptable to both sides, I would suggest that it would be a good thing for the code to be wholly excluded. This Chamber would still have the power quite separately and with the separate powers of Parliament if they considered that one side or the other, in negotiating about the code, was being unnecessarily difficult. Parliament could then come in and this Chamber could play its part in deciding, in the light of the intransigence of one side or the other, that a certain power should be given to some Minister, with specific instructions as to how he should act. I believe that if we want a code at all which is negotiated and acceptable to both sides, you are more likely to get this if the power of the Minister is removed. If the code is not included in the Bill at all and if negotiations to reach some sensible agreement as to how both sides may operate together cannot be undertaken, then Parliament at a later stage, after the 12 months' delay referred to by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, has shown that this matter ought to be settled.

A modest request was made last time. It was turned down; and this makes me very doubtful indeed that those who think as I do ought to play any part at all in giving this Bill at any rate the power of having had the support of this House. If this Bill as it now stands becomes law, it ought to become so by means of the Parliament Act. Let the Government, who are obviously very satisfied with their right, bear the full responsibility for having done it. With all the concessions —and there have not been many—that are supposed to have been made, I do not think that Members of Parliament, whether it be the Liberals, those on the Cross-Benches or those on this side of the House, ought to be a party, by their silence, to putting on the Statute Book something which would be likely to interfere with the freedom of the Press.

I was very interested in the very brief intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, who gave a very clear indication of how he feels. He said that the only union is the National Union of Journalists, and the other is of no consequence; it is some cooked-up company that is not really representative. The 3,000 members of the Institute do not think that. If we are to have people who have made up their minds in advance that the only group of men under a union banner who ought to have anything to say are the National Union of Journalists, then we ought to take into account what one of the leaders of that Union said on television. It is for all those reasons and risks, and because the Government did not accept this final, very modest request as regards eliminating the Minisster from preparing this code, that I shall use my free vote to support the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, if he pushes his Amendment to a Division.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, for the first time this afternoon in the course of this dreary debate I learned the reason why my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby was inspired to inject into this proposed legislation what is called the charter. He was inspired by the Industrial Relations Bill which became an Act with all its dire consequences with which we are by now familiar, by the proposition which was accepted and, indeed, forced upon us by the majority of your Lordships' House; namely, the code of practice. But the code of practice contained many conditions and stipulations. Members of your Lordships' House who were present during the debates on that piece of legislation will recall the contention that occurred as a result of the propositions made by the Government of the day. Therefore, I cannot for the life of me understand why my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby objects to the injection of stipulations and conditions in this legislation, however objectionable.

I have come to a definite conclusion, like my noble friend Lord Wigg, though not necessarily of the same nature. We should say to the Publishers' Association or the Newspapers' Association—whatever appellation or definition they require in order to be identified—and to those whom they employ, whether editors, sub-editors or just plain common or garden journalists, "Get together and settle this business for yourselves." Let us have no legislation of any kind.

We have heard a great deal this afternoon about the subject of the freedom of the Press. If anybody has suffered at the hands or the pens of the Press, I certainly have in my time; but not necessarily from editors or even sub-editors or those who have been permitted to make occasional contributions to the Press. I have suffered, as indeed have many of my colleagues on this side of the House, and those who are not on this side of the House but who would like to be and may come to this side after the next General Election. We have suffered at the hands not of those whom I have described, but at the hands and the pens of the ordinary common or garden journalists.

When my noble friend Lord Brad well attacked the Daily Telegraph because it is a victim of the advertising media, I thought he went a little too far. I myself have objections to the Daily Telegraph, although I buy it and read it every day. My reason for buying it is that whenever I feel a measure of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party, I read the Daily Telegraph and I am immediately consoled. It has nothing to do with the advertisers. I do not believe for a moment that Sir William Deedes, who is an old colleague of ours in another place, would so demean himself as to allow himself to be influenced exclusively and wholly by the possibility of obtaining additional advertisements in order to boost the revenue of the company which owns the Daily Telegraph. I do not believe a word of it.

Let us not brag about the ordinary common or garden journalists. Indeed, I remember when my noble friend adopted the cognomen of William Hickey it was not at all discriminating. I was at the time regarded as something of a moderate, and was the victim of criticism —that is a mild term for it—by journalists who did not always write under their own names. No, my Lords; let us not brag about either the freedom of the Press or, in particular, the dignity, honour, compassion or impartiality of the common or garden journalists. In the main, they write as it pleases them. Anyhow, I do not believe for a moment that every editor issues instructions at the daily conference to those who surround him around 12 o'clock—always before lunch —as to what they must write. They write, very often, as it pleases them. Indeed, that is what we mean by the "freedom of the Press". All these attacks on this newspaper or that leave me quite cold. My withers are unwrung. I ask your Lordships to excuse the cliché.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, a man of high intellectual stature, and I can understand that he wishes Members of your Lordships' House to come to the aid of the journalists and rehabilitate them in the arena of freedom. I would agree with him wholly, and without any reservation whatever, that every editor of any newspaper or periodical in the United Kingdom should have an exclusive right to write as he pleases and to run it as he pleases. That is what I understand by the "freedom of the Press". I would never seek to impede an editor in any fashion, because that would be all wrong. Of course, we very often do not like what we read in the leading articles. For example, sometimes in The Times newspaper there are leading articles which are difficult to understand and apprehend. Nevertheless, we are afforded something in the nature of information which otherwise we should be unable to obtain, so the less we say about the newspapers and the less we indulge in derogatory language about them the better it is going to be.

Therefore, my advice to your Lordships' House, if I have any influence at all—perhaps not on this side of the House but it may be on the other side—is to take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in perhaps the most intelligent speech that has been made, apart from the remarkable and brief speech that was made by the noble Lord opposite, for he said to us, "If you are going to have a charter you must put into it something sensible; you must have safeguards in it". In effect, what he said was, "Do not bother about a charter at all". I understand that as nothing but latitude. Leave it to those who are the employers and those who are the employees to come together and argue it out on the shop floor, or wherever it may be: for instance, in the chapels to which reference has been made by my noble friend who is sitting beside me on these Benches.

Therefore, my advice is, reject the whole thing: reject the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman; reject the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg; reject every other kind of Amendment. That is what I would ask your Lordships' House to do. As for leaving the power to exercise judgment in matters concerning the Press to a Minister of State, there is not a single Minister either in this Government or in any Government with which I have ever had any connection—not even myself—whom I would trust to exercise a determination as to what should appear in the newspapers of this country. Why do we assume that a Minister of State is of such intellectual quality as to be able to determine what should appear in the newspapers, what should be written, what should be exorcised? Of course not. Therefore, my advice is: let us finish with it. For Heaven's sake! I beg your Lordships not to let this creature come back again to your Lordships' House. Let us cut its throat and be done with it.


My Lords, I recognised just now in the noble Lord the Leader of the House the unmistakable restiveness which comes over a Leader when he senses that a decision ought to be reached. We are getting towards the end of this debate. How the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, intends to vote after that speech is something to which we shall all look forward with great interest.

I will be brief. I have attended most of the debates on this matter, although it is only the second time in the last year that I have spoken in the debate. Having listened to the conflicting arguments which have been put forward—all of them honestly and sincerely held—I might say that allegations of humbug do nothing to elevate the debate and do not further it at all. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is patently sincere and certainly has worked just as hard to reach agreement as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. In listening to the arguments I think that on an issue of this kind we should be guided in making our final judgment—and I hope it is a final judgment on the charter—by instinct as well as by reason. When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and what he had to say in moving his Amendment this afternoon, I believe we were listening to the authentic tones of individual freedom. It sounds a rather ponderous thing to say, but I think it is true. That a speech of this kind can be made from the Cross-Benches, free from Party political pressures, whatever other pressures bear on the noble Lord, is just one more example of the value of the Cross-Benches in this House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, reminded us, the issue before us is one of principle. It is, in brief, industrial regulation against liberty of expression. I am not a believer in codes, in rules, in charters. I am not convincd that once they come into effect they always influence behaviour in the way the framers intended. The only reason for having charters or codes written into legislation is if they contain redress. If someone is wronged, if he seeks a remedy, he can only obtain it by Act of Parliament. Therefore, I am with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. It is not all that often that we agree, but I am with the noble Lord in concluding that this is a field which Governments and Ministers would do better to keep out of. However well-intentioned interventions by Ministers may be, in the end I believe that they are likely to lead to a diminution of individual freedom, rather than to any increase in freedom of expression.

The decision whether or not to press this Amendment to a Division is for the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. He has heard how the debate has gone. He has heard the arguments raised from either side of the Chamber. I can only say for myself that if he decides to divide the House, I shall vote with him.


My Lords, may I say one more word from the Cross-Benches because I am not quite sure that the issues have been put squarely to your Lordships. In actual fact, this is not a question whether the Government shall be enabled to make some arrangement which might undermine Press freedom. The question is whether, by the operation of the closed shop, editors and other journalists may or may not need protection in order to assure Press freedom. I agree with what has been said. There has to be an arbiter if there cannot be agreement. I was very encouraged by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who believes that the possibilities of agreement have been increasing in recent months. That is very good and I hope that there will be agreement. If there is, there is less reason to fear that this arrangement will lead to general Government intervention. However, I have lived too long in countries where the Press is controlled by one means or another not to see the very great danger in front of us if the arrangements we are now making get queered. Do not forget that the Bill which is now about to pass your Lordships' House—over our dead bodies, if I may say so—

Lord HOY

Speak for yourself!


—is going to abolish the provision which protected workers against arbitrary or unreasonable exclusion from trade unions. When you apply this very new position to the Press, it has rather sinister possibilities. I remember talking to a very high official behind the Curtain with whom I had made friends. He was complaining very much about the Government he had to serve. I said to him: "But look here. After all, you have got a motor car, you are well dressed, you have got a flat, you feed well. What do you complain of?" He said: "My dear friend, the fish does not realise what the water is until he comes out of it, and one does not realise until one comes away from a country where there is freedom of thought what a terrible thing the absence of it is. You cannot imagine what it is like to be deprived of that kind of water".

I believe it is important that, having gone so far, we should accept this arrangement about a charter. It is not going to be imposed. It is an encouragement to the industry to arrange a charter for itself. If they do not reach agreement —although I hope from what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has said, that they will—then as serious men we ought to think about whether or not there should be an arbiter. I do not see who it can be, except the Secretary of State. As it is the same Secretary of State who has made us pass this Bill abolishing the provisions against unreasonable and arbitrary exclusion, I do not feel all that confident, any more than does the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. But the charter is better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick, and I recommend that we should not vote for the Amendment.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was right. As an ex-Leader of the House, he recognises that Leaders need to take into account what may be the feelings of the House. I think we have had a good debate. We have debated this subject on many occasions. It may be that the House would wish to come to a decision on the matter very quickly.

My Lords, by leave of the House, may I say one thing about the constitutional situation. If your Lordships were to accept the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, then that would be the finish as far as concerns any provisions for the Press in this piece of legislation. If, however, your Lordships were to reject the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and this Bill were to go back to another place with the provisions which we put in during Committee, then, of course, another place will have to consider the Bill, because the Bill is then proceeding along its normal constitutional course. I do not know what another place would do. They might seek, in the light of the debate here, to see whether there is any point in what was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I would not want to mislead him by saying that I would have thought there would be a change.

Listening to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Wigg and Lord Windlesham, I can only reflect that if they had spoken with that same degree of clarity on earlier occasions during the previous Session, we should not have a charter involving the Secretary of State. If a decision had been taken then, a great deal of time would have been saved. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, voted for the inclusion in one shape, form or another, of the role of the Secretary of State. I have no doubt at all that if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, had attended any of the previous debates and had voted with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, he would have voted for the inclusion of the Secretary of State. Noble Lords did it knowingly. There is no question about that; it was not hidden. So your Lordships voted that way, and therefore it seems to me strange that at this very last moment this is raised as a great issue upon which the freedom of the Press depends. I feel that a very large red herring has been drawn across this matter today.

I hope that the House will agree that the Bill should remain as it is; that we should not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. Great efforts have been sincerely made; major concessions, meeting many of the fears he has expressed, have been made to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, which, on earlier occasions, he has been quite free in acknowledging. A great deal of work has been undertaken, not only in this House but in another place. To use the phrase of the noble and learned Lord, it is there; let us try it: no harm will come of it. It may well be that it is the basis upon which both sides can negotiate out of a very difficult situation that may confront them as a consequence of the general provisions of this legislation. I should be much happier if these provisions were in the Bill than if we were to pass this Bill with no such provision, considering all the fears that have been generally expressed in the past. I think that would be a very grave error indeed.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I interrupt to ask him one question? At the end of his speech, the noble Lord said that it would be a grave error if the Bill was not passed in its present form. But what happens if the clauses which constitute the charter are withdrawn under the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the Bill stands without the charter? What happens if there can be no agreement between the publishers and the unions?


Nothing, my Lords; and all the fears expressed in the past would be there before us.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, I am sorry, but that does not help me. The noble Lord says, "Nothing ". But what happens?

Several Noble Lords: Nothing!

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, if there is disagreement between the publishers and the unions, what is the situation? Is there a strike?

Several Noble Lords: Yes.

The Earl of PERTH

The thing is as now.


My Lords, if I may come in here, the situation is as it was before 1970. May I venture to reply to the question asked by the noble Earl, Lorth Perth? What happens is what happens now. The newspaper continues to be produced with difficulties, with travail, sometimes joyously, sometimes tragically, but produced without the benevolent assistance of any charters imposed by the Secretary of State. If I may say so, that is infinitely preferable to the charter we might have which will set us on quite different courses, as determined by a Minister of the Crown and as regulated by Parliament. I have already made the point, but I make it again, that there is no civilised country that I know of that has its Press regulated by a Minister and by its Legislature. It will be a sad day indeed if we decide to make that innovation.

My Lords, if I may say so without being patronising, we have had a most interesting debate. I feel I am obliged to divide the House if only to ascertain the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, will cast his vote! I have had a good measure of support. I have had the slight travail and the infinite boon over many years of the support of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. I often think his support is akin to that given by the late Prince Rupert in the days of the Cavaliers. He gallops boldly, and with immense courage, on to the field; he faces the enemy more resolutely and does more damage to them with little equivalent damage to his own side, and then disappears from view. But at the end of the day, he is on your side. I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for so stoutly having made the one point with which I am concerned. We do not want Ministerial intervention in relation to the conduct of the Press.

I have no other point to make. I am told that this is inconsistency on my part, and that hitherto I had accepted this. But that is not the least of the case. We accepted that, as a matter of conciliation and compromise, we would allow a charter in which passing, nodding reference was made to the Secretary of State, provided there was close and precise regulation of what he could do. That is so divergent from this situation as not to bear the slightest resemblance. It is not on that account that I claim to be wholly acquitted from any impeachment of inconsistency. There is no inconsistency in my attitude, and there is an immense chasm between that situation and that which we are asked to accept at present.

Your Lordships have listened with great patience to what I regard as an important debate, and I make no apology for having again taken up the time of your Lordships. I have decided, in view of the expressions of support I have

Astor of Hever, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Auckland, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Sackville, L.
Balniel, L. Hartwell, L. St. Davids, V.
Bessborough, E. Henley, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Bethell, L. Inglewood, L. Sandford, L.
Birdwood, L. Killearn, L. Sempill, Ly.
Bolton, L. Kilmany, L. Sharples, B.
Boothby, L. Kissin, L. Stamp, L.
Cathcart, E. Lauderdale, E. Strange, L.
Chelwood, L. Lloyd, L. Strathspey, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Swansea, L.
Davidson, V. Lyell, L. Tenby, V.
Drumalbyn, L. Mancroft, L. Terrington, L.
Ebbisham, L. Margadale, L. Teviot, L.
Elles, B. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Thomas, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Merrivale, L. Trefgarne, L.
Erskine of Rerrick, L. Mersey, V. Tweedsmuir, L.
Falkland, V. Monson, L. Vernon, L.
Gainford, L. Mountgarret, V. Vickers, B.
George-Brown, L. Newall, L. Vivian, L.
Glasgow, E. Northchurch, B. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Goodman, L. [Teller.] Ogmore, L. Wigg, L.[Teller.]
Gowrie, E. Perth, E. Windlesham, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Porritt, L.
Amherst, E. Collison, L, Harris of Greenwich, L.
Amulree, L. Cranbrook, E. Helsby, L.
Ardwick, L. Crook, L. Henderson, L.
Arwyn, L. Crowther-Hunt, L. Hood, V.
Aylestone, L. Darling of Hillsborough, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L..
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Davies of Leek, L. Hov, L.
Balogh, L. Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B. Hughes, L.
Banks, L. Diamond, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Beswick, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Jacobson, L.
Birk, B. Douglas of Barloch, L. Jacaues, L.
Blyton, L. Douglass of Cleveland, L. Janner, L.
Bradwell, L. Elwyn-Jones, L. (L.Chancellor.) Kirkhill, L.
Briginshaw, L. Leatherland, L.
Brockway, L. Fulton, L. Lee of Asheridge, B.
Brown, L. Gaitskell, B. Lee of Newton, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Gardiner, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Geddes, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]
Burntwood, L. Gordon-Walker, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Byers, L. Gregson, L. Loudoun, C.
Castle, L. Grey of Naunton, L. Lyons of Brighton, L.
Cawley, L. Hale, L. Lytton, E.
Champion, L. Hamnett, L. McLeavy, L.
Chorley, L. Hankey, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Clwyd, L. Hanworth, V. Maelor, L.

received, that whatever the result of the Division—whether we be defeated, even ignominiously defeated—it would be wrong not to demonstrate in the proper Parliamentary way that there are a few of us, and I hope more than a few, who view this proposal with repugnance. The way to express that repugnance, if I may venture to say so, is by accompanying me into the Division Lobby.

4.59 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 109.

Maybray-King, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Melchett, L. Platt, L. Stow Hill, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Popplewell, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Morris of Kenwood, L. Ritchie-Calder, L. Strang, L.
McCarthy, L Roberthall, L. Summerskill, B.
Oram, L. Rochester, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Paget of Northampton, L. Rusholme, L. Wade, L.
Pannell, L. Seear, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Pargiter, L. Segal, L. White, B.
Parry, L. Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Winterbottom, L.
Peddie, L. Skelmersdale, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Phillips, B. Slater, L. Wynne-Jones, L.