HL Deb 11 May 1977 vol 383 cc288-335

5.7 p.m.

Lord ORR-EWING rose to call attention to the role of the trade unions in relation to the freedom of the Press and broadcasting; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Fourteen months ago, Parliament finally passed the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act. There were several clauses and features which caused grave disquiet, particularly in this House. This led to the use of the Parliamentary Act so that the Bill, originally introduced by Mr. Michael Foot in 1975, took over a year to reach the Statute Book. It finally did so on 25th March 1976.

Your Lordships will remember the considerable contributions made to our debates by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, from the Opposition Front Bench, by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, from the Liberal Benches, by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, from the Labour Benches and by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, from the Cross-Benches. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has offered his apologies; he is on his way from Oxford and hopes to join the debate fairly soon. They were all concerned, as were so many of us, with the effect of the closed shop on editorial and journalistic freedom, and the Government strongly hoped that an agreed Press Charter would alleviate many of these fears.

The Bill allowed one year for agreement to be achieved; that year was up on 25th March, 1977. Unfortunately, all these hopes have not been fulfilled. The Committee working on the Press Charter, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, representing all sides of the industry, failed to agree and the noble and learned Lord reported to the Minister—now Mr. Albert Booth—a failure to agree. He asked that members of his Committee write within three weeks to the Minister, giving their reasons for dissenting on various clauses. The Minister now has a statutory, difficult and unenviable task, after consulting the Press Council and other interested bodies, of writing his own Charter and then presenting it for approval to both Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, things have not stood still and some of the fears expressed have, I think, been justified. I thought that in this sensitive matter of Press and broadcasting freedom, it might be timely to have a short debate in your Lordships' House. It seemed more appropriate to have this debate here, where we are less politically polarised and where there is a wealth of talent with a lifetime of experience in the newspaper industry. I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, will follow me and that the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, is also to speak. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Briginshaw, has not put his name down, because I should like to hear him make the case of the National Society of Operative Printers, Graphical and Media Personnel—more conveniently known as NATSOPA. When I learned that I had been fortunate in the ballot for Motions and contacted many of the large number of bodies and individuals most closely concerned, I had a tremendous and helpful response. I am deeply grateful to them. If I do not do justice to the wealth of material, about 30 centimetres high, which arrived, it is because I do not want to hog all the time in a relatively short debate.

There are many ways in which direct and indirect pressures can apply a form of censorship to newspapers and also in broadcasting. Today we are reminded that even a Parliamentary democracy can sometimes be gravely affected by the unions, because the printers of HMSO refuse to print our Parliamentary Order Papers and therefore are inconveniencing our working. These pressures, whether they are applied to newspapers, broadcasting or even in Parliament, can be applied at all levels and I shall attempt to deal with some of them.

First, may I deal with the editorial side. I readily concede that there is editorial policy. The influence this has is considerable on the balance and importance of items in individual papers. My generation will always remember the Beaverbrook Press in the 1930s. We vividly recall the campaigns against Stanley Baldwin, as he then was, and the brilliant cartoons drawn by David Lowe of Lord Sealed Lips. After the war, there were other targets for the Beaverbrook Press, like the British Council. I think that Lord Mountbatten had his share, too. Provided that enough newspapers remain economically viable and also free, the public can probably absorb and judge for themselves such bias as exists. Nowadays, of course, they have the added advantage of television news on two alternative channels to produce a balance.

Now I turn to the journalists and unions. At present the journalists are dominated by their big union, the National Union of Journalists, and also by the smaller one, the IOJ, which represents a somewhat different sector. In recent years, aided and abetted by recent Labour legislation and, I cannot help suspecting, a certain amount of dogma, the closed shop has in effect had to be acknowledged, certainly in the mass circulation papers like the Mirror, I think the Sun and parts of the Beaverbrook Press. I say "in effect", because not to give way means so much unpleasantness and so much disruption that many people have had to how to the closed shop.

Perhaps in the past journalists have been pushed down the hierarchical ladder of this industry as compared with the powerful monopoly enjoyed by the print unions. This may be the belated cause of the current wave of militancy in journalistic circles. I cannot help feeling that it is ironical that Lord Beaverbrook, who always believed in paying journalists handsomely and giving young men early responsibility, should now be suffering from difficulties with the NUJ. One has only to think of the opportunities given to people like Michael Foot, Tom Driberg, Dick Crossman and many others when they were in their early twenties, to realise how that policy was acting in those days.

There is a powerful and dedicated group in the NUJ which is constantly pressing for a rigid application of the closed shop, and who are testing their strength with attempts at political censorship. At the NUJ conference from 19th to 22nd April, typical motions tried to rule that their members should not report on National Front activities, nor on organisations which they judged racist, nor even on the football match between Chile and Scotland. At any time the militant Left might rule that journalists should not report on events in South Africa or Rhodesia; or there could be a conspiracy of silence about the murders in Mozambique or the 1 million people who have been killed by the Marxist regime now ruling in Cambodia. What is disturbing is that all this could happen without we, the public, knowing. Surely clandestine censorship is in some ways the most pernicious censorship of all. Bernard Levin's articles in The Times recently showed just how the Left Wing had worked to control the 2,000 strong freelance branch of the NUJ.

As long ago as 1926—incidentally, at the time of the national rail strike—an agreement was made between the NPA and the unions that there would be no censorship by the unions of the Press. It is fair to state that the number of attempts to circumvent this policy is increasing, for 20 years ago attempts were practically unheard of; 10 years ago they were very rare. Today there is always a potential threat in the background, and such attempts have been made with the Daily Telegraph, the Observer and The Times.

I now turn to a number of instances, in their way each of them small but still significant. I will give examples of actual and potential threats, all of which I suggest are totally contrary to the spirit and letter of the NUJ code of conduct. Some of your Lordships may have seen a letter in The Times of 29th April from Martin Webster of the National Front. Your Lordships will know that I have absolutely no sympathy for that organisation. Like the majority of Members of your Lordships' House, I spent the period from 1939 to 1946 fighting every single thing for which that organisation stands. This letter to The Times quoted from a recommendation to NUJ members of their North London organisation. Here are some of the points concerning journalists reporting on National Front activities. First: Feel free to act according to conscience, either by refusing to attend or in deliberately writing a report that is extremely brief or highly critical". Secondly: Enthusiastically take up issues like immigration and deportation. … Don't shirk confronting your management even if it means taking industrial action". All genuine democrats will deplore such recommendations.

I remember very vividly in the middle of the war, when we were fighting for our lives against the Fascist threat, that Mr. Herbert Morrison, then Home Secretary, decided to release Oswald Mosley from detention. When there was a storm of protest from the Left Wing, with their traditional intolerance, he pointed out that we were fighting a war specifically to maintain the freedom to express contrary views and, I may say, he stuck to his guns with tremendous guts. Last Friday, for the first time that I can recall, there were NUJ pickets at the entrance as I came into New Palace Yard. I had never seen them there before. I gather that they were in sympathy with the NUJ pressure for a closed shop in the Kettering Evening News, where there has been a strike lasting over 22 weeks because some nine NUJ members want to join the Institute of Journalists. We must be thankful that efforts to spread that strike to the PA and prevent the printing of the local election results were prevented by those who were vigilant and who value democracy and the freedom of the Press.

As I have said, it is true that the NUJ have a code of conduct. I have a copy here. However, this could be changed at any time by the militants now serving on the executive committee. It is always easier for an annual conference to endorse changes than it is to vote against its own executive's actions. Let us remember that if deprived of a union card, a journalist is unemployed and unemployable in his chosen and trained profession. A closed shop in the media is an open invitation, I suggest, to a union to steer newspapers and broadcasting into disseminating the Left Wing views in which the militants currently believe.

A closed shop NUJ will lead to a disturbing position in regard to special reports and special articles in the Press. We see instances of this starting in the sporting field, in which I take a special interest. It so happens that a number of sportsmen are also excellent writers. Your Lordships will remember Peter Robbins, that second row rugby forward for England, Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdray and Danny Blanchflower, while others come to mind. It would be a sad day if they were blacked, and that happened to Peter Robbins, a correspondent of the Financial Times. He had tried to join the NUJ but had been rejected on the grounds—and I quote, that journalism was not his principal source of income". Therefore he could not be made a member.

If sportsmen are to be banned as part-time contributors, how serious it will be if the same principle applies to musicians who want to write about music, to artists who want to write about paintings or exhibitions, to actors who want to write about the theatre or films or television, to economists—of whom we have several in this House—who want to write about their theories in regard to the economy, and even politicians who will not be allowed to write because they are certainly part-timers; as it would not be their main source of income they would have to cease writing about politics. Once the principle is established that a man is not going to be given a card unless it is his full-time, main manner of earning his keep, one is on a dangerous slope which can go very far.

I would mention that the advertising side, which is so frightfully important to the economic survival of our newspapers at this time, is not free from some indirect censorship. There have been several examples when print unions have refused to set type or have asked for modifications. Small companies and the self-employed preparing advertisement material—and I am referring to companies with one or three or four people—are having their work blacked unless those individuals immediately join either the NGA or Slade. A recent ballot has shown that 80 per cent. of these people do not want to be unionised, so we are having a very forceful application and your Lordships may notice that occasionally our newspapers are printed with blanks where pictures should have been but they have not been produced by the union concerned. In some ways I prefer to have a blank because at least one knows what has happened whereas if something is substituted in its place one is totally unaware of any form of indirect censorship.

I turn now to the other side of the coin, to the print unions. A form of indirect censorship can also be exercised by those unions. At present this sometimes takes the form of a reluctance to print news of their own quarrels. How many of us know what has happened at the HMSO at the moment? Certainly they seem a little reluctant to publish details of their earnings, the degree of overmanning and the rules of working, and if the editor tries to explain to his readers the reasons why they are not printing or why there has been a short print, censorship prevails and very often the print is stopped.

The Royal Commission on the Press published an interim report in March 1976 which showed very large earnings by the linotype operators of up to £240 a week. Therefore, one can understand their reluctance not to disturb the present arrangements or to publicise them too fully.

Last week on a television programme I saw Percy Roberts, now the chairman and chief executive of the Mirror group, and he said that in one department there were 40 people earning over £10,000 a year. Those are very big wages indeed. He also said that that newspaper had spent no less than £5 million in redundancy pay during the last year in an effort to reduce overmanning. I do not recall those figures being emblazoned in the Press.

New typesetting and printing methods are making tremendous progress all over the world. Their introduction into the United Kingdom unfortunately is well behind the practice of the USA and Canada. We are even behind the prosperous countries of Western Europe and in some cases the London produced papers are, in their methods, behind our provincial Press, where they have made more progress. Year after year the print unions prevent the introduction of modern technology and I regret to say that recently that attitude has also been endorsed by a resolution of the NUJ.

David Astor, in his article published in Index in January 1977, pointed out just how easy it was to delay printing and thus prevent editions catching trains. Incidentally, reports on this article, which talked of "the threat and use of sabotage" by the print unions, were unacceptable to the unions and could not be printed and there were serious stoppages and amendments. In a commodity as perishable as news, such tactics are not only a form of censorship but they lead straight and inevitably to financial suicide. Almost all our newspapers are now in serious financial straits, not only because of the unions but—and I want to be absolutely fair here—because of the soaring cost of newsprint, which is a crippling burden. Since 1973 newsprint costs have risen from £77 a ton to £238 a ton. Thirty-five per cent. of total outgoings is spent on raw materials, principally paper, and about the same amount on remuneration. It is difficult to do much about a world commodity like newsprint which is much in demand, but there are actions which can be taken in the field of overmanning and new technology.

Let us consider the depth of the present newspaper financial position. Last week it was published in The Times that they had made a loss for the year; but for profits from other activities within the Thomson group it might have ceased publication. The Daily Telegraph is making such slender profits that if it had been a public company with debts to service it would have been in real financial trouble. The Observer would have gone out of business recently but for the financial assistance of an oil company, Atlantic Richfield. The financial problems of the Beaverbrook Press can be read in the columns of our newspapers almost daily. Associated Newspapers have difficulties with their London newspapers and but for their diversification into other industries they, too, would be financially embarrassed. The Sun is perhaps financially the strongest and a cynic might suggest that is the reason why it is under such strong attack by the unions.

The interim report of the Royal Commission has shown that in this great and vital industry, with a sales turnover in 1974 of £300 million, 17 papers together lost £4 million. The following year, in 1975, with a turnover of £354 million they made a slender profit of £4 million. That is just 1.23 per cent. My Lords, we are near censorship by closure.

In this financial climate, the loss of vast sales through industrial disruption can so easily turn a slender profit into near bankruptcy. In the last six months of 1976 the Sun lost over 20 million copies; the Daily Mirror over 15 million copies; the Daily Telegraph nearly 5 million copies; the Daily Mail over 2½ million copies and nearly all national newspapers were affected by stoppages. I turn now to broadcasting. Financial difficulties may force the quality and quantity of our newspapers to fall. If costs go on rising each family will increasingly read only one paper. It then becomes even more important to preserve and encourage different television and sound broadcasting sources of news, documentaries, discussion and comment.

So far, in replies I have received from the BBC and the IBA it seems there has been only a limited number of occasions when the unions sought to exert pressure on editorial decisions about programmes. The IBA point out, and I think wisely, that they have a statutory requirement to provide political impartiality and this may be helpful in restraining pressure from the unions, which appreciate that their employers would be in breach of the Act if they gave way to pressure. They report pressure on one or two occasions, one of which was an effort by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians to prevent their members working in South Africa. The BBC's most recent example was at their local station, Radio Sheffield, when the NUJ objected to a non-journalist sports reporter reporting on football. I think he was either a teacher or a potato merchant; I am not sure which. The strike lasted seven and a half weeks and I am glad to say that reporter is still being used. A few years ago the ACTT tried to stop the BBC filming in Crete for a very popular programme called "The Lotus Eaters". They objected because of the colonels' regime. On that occasion, the BBC obtained an injunction and the filming went ahead. Equity continues to oppose the sale of all BBC television programmes to South Africa.

Peter Hain and his anti-apartheid movement are trying to stop the relay of the England-Australia Test series to that country. There are other examples. Again, it is difficult for the public to appreciate to what extent direct and indirect censorship or pressure is occurring. Clearly, this has to be carefully watched, and I am glad that the BBC seems fully awake to the dangers.

On the other hand, David Astor in his article, after referring to Fleet Street silence about their own methods and difficulties, goes on: But what is more surprising is that the BBC and ITN cravenly give the news that so many thousand copies of a newspaper have been 'lost through industrial action' without ever explaining what the industrial action is, i.e. organised sabotage, either active or passive. The reason may be a wish by the broadcasting organisations not to offend the susceptibilities of their own unions; it is difficult to think of any other.

My Lords, to summarise and conclude, Lord Justice Scarman said earlier this year: There are certain rights, for example, personal liberty, freedom of speech and thought, equality before the law, which are so fundamental that not even the democratically elected majority should be allowed to destroy them. Just over a year ago this House reluctantly let through the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. Mr. Michael Foot had refused our Amendments to build in appeal procedures and sanctions against those who did not keep to the Code. The Government had assured Parliament that a voluntary agreement would be reached on the Charter of Press Freedom. These hopes were ill-founded, unfortunately. Now we await the Minister's own Code, which will be presented for approval to each House. My Lords, we will need to examine this Code most carefully. During the last year numerous pressure groups have continued their efforts to inhibit Press freedom. These pressures on broadcasting may at present be less disturbing, but if the militants gain their goals with the Press, broadcasting is bound to be the next main area to come under attack.

My Lords, I have sought to show that economic pressure can so easily close newspapers and reduce choice. This is indirect censorship, and it is dangerous. Surely in this House we have a special duty to discuss and publicise this insidious effort to inhibit freedom in all forms of media. That is why I am grateful to all those who are here today, and especially to those who are speaking. By doing so I hope we are helping to answer Milton's appeal: Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for giving us an opportunity to debate this disturbing and serious matter. I should begin with a statement that I have been throughout my working life a member of the National Union of Journalists; I am a life member still. In my earlier years I was a father of the chapel. I was regarded at that time perhaps as a rather militant father of the chapel, but I think by present-day standards I would probably be described as a reactionary crocodile. As the noble Lord pointed out, it is also true, that until the National Union of Journalists began to act as a militant trade union rather than a professional organisation the salaries and working conditions of journalists fell very far behind. In some newspaper offices they were treated in a niggardly and sometimes a disgraceful fashion compared to the rising wages in other parts of the industry and in industry generally. They had to resort to militant chapel action in the first place, and national action later, to get this put right. I think we should remember this when we deplore, as I do, some of the more extreme activities of the militants nowadays.

Interference with the freedom of the Press is rather like evil; we are all against it, but many of us—some of us—practise it. It does not only come from trade unions; politicians intervene in the freedom of the Press through their attempts at news management—politicians of all Parties. Prime Ministers get first editions of the London dailies delivered to 10 Downing Street or Chequers, and it has not been unknown in the past—I do not think it happens now—for a Prime Minister to ring up the editor or senior executive of a newspaper to complain about something that is in the early editions and to try to get it taken out or amended.

There is the law; the law places restrictions on the freedom of the Press. We have the laws of defamation and the laws on contempt of court. Both, I think, are necessary, for the protection of the individual and the courts, but they are out of date; they remain unreformed despite long and learned inquiries and recommendations that they should be brought up to date. We have the ludicrous Official Secrets Acts, of course, still in force, and we have the D notice system.

The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, spoke a great deal about trade union interference with the freedom of the Press, but he had less to say about proprietorial and managerial interference. I think that politicians and the public sometimes exaggerate the extent to which proprietors, publishers, chairmen, interfere with the editorial running of their papers. But that there is such interference in some places on some newspapers is absolutely clear to all working journalists. It exists in the power of a newspaper proprietor or a chairman arbitrarily to dismiss the editor with whose political judgment he disagrees. I see my noble friend Lord Castle is sitting there. He and I well remember the abrupt and unjust dismissal of the editor of Picture Post, Mr. Tom Hopkinson, by Sir Edward Hulton because he disagreed with an article about the atrocities being committed in South Korea during the Korean war. There have been other instances. So when we talk about trade union interference let us not imagine that this is the only form of interference, or even the most dangerous form.

There is another form of interference with the Press, which is the steady pressure of managements, understandably, for more profits, higher sales, more space for advertising, particularly in the present economic climate. This sometimesmakes it very difficult for editors to resist lowering the standards of their paper, perhaps giving less space, cutting editorial costs, and in my experience this is something harder to fight than outright attempts at intervention in content either by politicians or trade unions. So let us keep this matter in perspective.

Lord Orr-Ewing quoted a number of instances. I agree with him that many of them are disturbing and some of them are quite deplorable. So let us ask ourselves how do these arise in the day-to-day working of the newspaper and what should be done about it. In my experience, interference by trade unions within the newspaper industry in the contents of a newspaper is very seldom directly political. It does not arise out of conflict over policies, the policies of publishers of newspapers or the policies of the Government or anything like that. It arises out of an industrial situation within that particular newspaper or within the newspaper industry in general.

What happens, in my experience, is this: someone on the paper, a chapel official or a member of the chapel, reads a proof or sees a piece of copy in which he thinks the attitude of his union, the views of his union or the views of his members, are not being fairly or accurately reported. He goes to see the editor about this. On daily newspapers, of course, this tends to happen rather late at night. The editor or the night editor has to deal with it at once, and he has to deal with it quickly because he has to get the paper to press. He cannot rely on branch officials of the union or the National Executive officers of the union, he cannot rely on the Newspaper Publishers' Association, he cannot rely on the Press Council. These gentlemen are probably at home in bed by then. He has to make up his mind and he has to make up his mind quickly. What the chapel officials, again in my experience, usually ask for is either that the piece should be left out while the matter is sorted out or that a statement on their side of the case should be published simultaneously in the same edition. The argument on which they base this is that, as they are part of the newspaper, they have a greater right than readers to put their side of the case before the paper is published.

In other words, if a newspaper reader reads something with which he disagrees, he sees it only the next day; these people see it that night. It is an understandable argument but I do not think it is a valid one. There is only one way in which editors can deal with such a situation. They must say, "If your union wishes to write or make a statement tomorrow putting its side of the case and correcting what it thinks is an unfairness, then of course we shall consider it and if we think it is fair to the union to do so we shall publish it, but we cannot do so tonight and we shall not take the article about which you complain out of the paper".

In my experience that nearly always works. In the end the chapel officials agree and work continues. However, if they do not agree, if they say that they will not print the paper with that article in it, there is only one thing for the editor to do and that is to say, "Right, we shall close down the paper rather than take the piece out". It is very hard for an editor to say that. No journalist or editor likes to lose an issue of his newspaper, particularly in these hard, competitive times. However, I believe that that is the right thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, quoted the Observer and mentioned its editor, Mr. David Astor. I know Mr. Astor and have great admiration for his long and brilliant editing of that newspaper. However, there have been occasions on the Observer when this robust attitude of closing down the paper rather than giving way to what is considered to be an unreasonable demand has not been carried out.

Before I mention the matter of the closed shop I should like to deal with one or two points raised by the noble Lord. He reported the motion of the annual conference of the National Union of Journalists instructing members not to report National Front activities, football matches and so on. I believe that in fact that motion was defeated. There is now a growing reaction against extreme militancy within the union. It is strong in the freelance branch and in the central London branch. I believe that the National Union of Journalists can eventually he left to sort this out for itself. I do not entertain some of the worst fears that the noble Lord expressed.

I do not believe that the noble Lord was quite right in his view of sports journalists. There is no objection to a full-time former sportsman who is now working full-time as a journalist writing for a paper, such as Denis Compton or Baxter, who writes for the Sunday Mirror. The objection was—and this was a fight that went on for a long time—that papers began to be filled with articles allegedly written by football managers or football professionals which were in fact, ghosted for them by members of the staff. As an interim measure the National Union insisted that in small type at the end of such articles the phrase "As told to …" or "As narrated to a member of the staff" should be included. This seemed to be quite a ludicrous state of affairs, particularly as any intelligent follower of football would far rather read what a professional journalist had to say about a match than what a football manager had to say about it. I sympathised with the NUJ when it stopped this practice. There is no objection in the NUJ to former sportsmen who have become full-time sports journalists. Why do they have an NUJ card when I believe that the earnings rule no longer exists?


My Lords, I could quote an incident where that has occurred within the last month. Therefore, it certainly exists in some areas.


My Lords, possibly; but I think I am right in saying that it is NUJ policy as a whole and that in most newspaper offices these relations work perfectly amicably. Such people are regarded as working journalists.

I do not want to comment too much on the Kettering dispute—it is an unhappy situation. It began as an argument about a house agreement; it has developed into a closed shop dispute. The nub of the matter now seems to be that the nine journalists who left the NUJ and joined the Institute of Journalists are regarded as having broken the union rules by leaving in the course of a dispute. It is on that that some eventual settlement may arise, as I hope will be the case soon.

I turn to the closed shop. It is no secret that many ex-newspaper people on this side of the House had great pangs of conscience during the debates to which the noble Lord referred. In the end I voted reluctantly for the Government because it seemed that we could not deny the National Union of Journalists rights which were being granted to other unions and which, in effect, existed in most newspaper offices anyway. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, is quite right in saying that there is a de facto closed shop, a post-entry closed shop, whereby people who join the paper are expected to join the union.

I very much regret the bitterness that has grown up between the National Union of Journalists and the Institute of Journalists. I hope that when the present troubles are over they may be able to restore amicable relations and perhaps even get back, as they did some years ago, to talking about an eventual amalgamation, which would be healthy for the profession.

I regret the breakdown of the talks on the Press charter and I certainly do not envy the Minister of Employment his task of now drawing one up. But I warn the House not to expect too much from any Press charter, however it is arrived at. It is worth having something on paper, but what matters in the end are the relations between the editor and his staff. That is the only way in which the situation will work properly. Where the relations between the editor and his editorial staff are good, I prophesy that there will be no trouble because both sides are genuinely concerned to maintain the freedom of the Press, on which so much depends.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, will not think me discourteous if I confess that the more I have reflected on the terms of the Motion he has introduced in your Lordships' House this afternoon, the less happy I have felt about speaking on it. This is partly because its terms are drawn so widely as to mean that it is very difficult, in what is necessarily a short debate, adequately to cover all the issues that it raises. But it is also because Motions of this kind can so easily be perceived to be—and I certainly do not accuse the noble Lord of having any intention of this kind—contentious, selective, and even partisan in their treatment of problems, that I am sure he will be the first to agree they are of a highly complex kind. In my experience, at best they then fail to solve the problem to which they call attention, and at worst they actually prove to be counter-productive.

However, it would clearly be inappropriate in a debate of this kind if there was no contribution from these Benches, and I am therefore speaking on this Motion. I shall do so briefly. I shall do so in what might, I think, be called a low key and with even more diffidence than usual, because although I have some practical experience of negotiating with trade unions, even to a small extent with printing unions, I have little or none of broadcasting, journalism, or the law. I feel even more reluctant after listening to the speech which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, with all his evident knowledge and first-hand experience of the newspaper industry.

As has already been said, in the last few weeks there have been a number of events which are significant in the context of this Motion, and like the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, I should like to make some reference to two or three of them. There was first the report which he mentioned of the Press Charter Group published towards the end of March. He has reminded your Lordships that that group, representative of employers, editors, and trade unions representing journalists, failed to reach agreement as to a Press charter and on some pretty fundamental points, including the freedom of trade unions to negotiate post-entry closed shops, the disciplining of journalists, and the definition of editors.

As the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, has just said, it now falls to the Secretary of State to draft his own charter, as it were. We, on these Benches, take some comfort from the fact that that charter has to be presented to both Houses of Parliament for approval before it can take effect. But in a political situation which is now very different from that in which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, first made the proposal, I think in your Lordships' House, that there should be a Press charter, like the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, I do not suppose that the Secretary of State views this prospect with any great relish.

I should make our position clear (and certainly this is how I myself feel about it) as to the charter. We remain determined, as my noble friend Lord Wigoder put it when the matter was last discussed in this House rather more than a year ago, that any charter should give adequate protection to the rights of individual journalists, of editors, and of outside contributors, and to the rights of the Institute of Journalists to retain a separate existence. Speaking for myself, but again like the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, I note, I now wonder more than ever if the existence of such a charter might not do more harm than good. But I do not think that that is a sufficient reason to refrain from asking the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, when he comes to wind up the debate, whether he can tell us anything more as to the Government's intentions on this point.

No doubt many of your Lordships would now agree that, so far as possible, it is best that the law and codes of practice, or charters, which depend for their approval on Parliament and are admissible in evidence, should be kept out of industrial relations. We have had too many unhappy experiences of the reverse in recent years. Our differences in this House, as I recall them, a year or two ago centred round the question of whether, in the case of the Press, there were one or two basic liberties, such as the right of an individual not to join a union at all on grounds of conscience and the need to maintain complete freedom of expression, that were of such overriding importance as to mean that they should be safeguarded in some way by statutory sanctions.

This leads me to the second recent series of events on which I should like to comment briefly, and which is relevant to this Motion; that is, the strike by the Kettering journalists. I think it has now lasted for five months. As the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, said, it has now become a dispute involving the closed shop principle. It culminated last week in the instruction from the National Union of Journalists to its members that they should black newscopy and pictures emanating from the Press Association at just the time when the local election results were being published.

In my experience, it is usually unhelpful for people not having close knowledge of the precise circumstances surrounding such disputes to air their views upon them; but in this case I would go so far as to offer the opinion that a hopeful sign for the future was the widespread interest and the active expression of conflicting opinions which that instruction evoked among journalists throughout the country. In my view, and I think there was some general support for this feeling of optimism in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, the more widely there is discussion of this difficult problem of the closed shop the more likely it is that the problem will eventually be resolved in practice in a moderate, level-headed and democratic way, without recourse to Parliamentary intervention. Certainly that is my sincere hope, and I would leave it at that.

The third and last point to which I think I must refer in a debate of this kind is the future of the newspaper industry, and particularly that of Associated Newspapers and the Beaverbrook Press. In my limited experience of it, overmanning and restrictive practices are more prevalent in the printing industry than in almost any other. On the face of it, this reflects poorly on the unions concerned. However, doubtless equally critical remarks could be made of employers, and especially in the case of the negotiations affecting the London Evening News and Evening Standard regarding the apparent failure of newspaper employers in that case adequately to inform in a sufficiently timely way their own employees about what was going on before they learned of it from other sources.

Nevertheless, it is to the role of trade unions that this Motion calls attention, and whether the attitudes of the printing unions stem primarily from habit, fear, or sheer short-sighted selfishness, on the one hand, or reflect, primarily, bad management, on the other, they certainly afford evidence of considerable lack of trust and of failure of communication between the unions and the employers concerned. As the annual report of the Thomson Organisation published only last week underlines, unless progress is made—in this case unless computer technology is introduced—the future even of The Times could be in jeopardy and the loss of that newspaper would indeed be a national tragedy.

Whatever the underlying causes of these problems, it seems to me that the basic point is that management and unions should come together to identify the problems more closely and, indeed, to solve them if newspapers are to survive in their present numbers; for we must not forget—on this point I agree very much with Lord Orr-Ewing—that the fewer newspapers there are the less freedom there will be for views to be expressed which are truly representative of all shades of opinion among us.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for raising this subject at this time. It is, as he said, about a year since we last discussed this matter in your Lordships' House and during that year there have been the discussions on the charter which have broken down, and the matter now rests with the Secretary of State for Employment. It is in my view an appalling situation that a Government Minister should be required to draft a charter of Press freedom. I do not rate very highly his chances of producing a charter which will be acceptable to either House, and I take the view that it is likely to do more harm than good, if it is finally approved, but one must wait and see what he comes up with.

I must declare an interest in that I am chairman of a publishing group which includes the Financial Times, of which paper I am also chairman. Before I had anything to do with the Financial Times I worked on the Westminster Press, which is a group of provincial newspapers, for some 15 years after the war. I have had the opportunity therefore of observing some of the trends which have led to the present situation and I shall confine myself to the issue of the closed shop, because in my view that is the overwhelmingly important one.

I remember very well that during the 'fifties and early 'sixties there was a very different attitude among journalists from that which has gained some ground today and I have the utmost sympathy with them in the change which has in many ways been forced on them. They saw their colleagues in the production unions obtaining advantages through solidarity which they were unable to obtain for themselves and they saw their own standard of living fall in relation to that of their colleagues; the differential was eroded.

There was of course another reason why they did not always push their strength as far as they might have, and that was because of a genuine professional approach to their work. There is a great disinclination on the part of journalists to see the paper not come out, and I believe that had something to do with the fact that it was not until 10 years ago, or even less, that militancy began to gain ground, and it was only through militancy that ground was made up. Therefore, I have great sympathy with them in this change of approach, although I deplore it. They have this in common with other professional groups—doctors, teachers, nurses—all of whom are reluctant to use the weapon of withholding their labour because of their professional attitude to their work.

It would be wrong to underestimate the present bargaining strength of the NUJ; I do not think it is possible to imagine a large newspaper coming out for any length of time without their consent. Situations such as that which, sadly, obtain at Kettering would I think be impossible on a large scale; it must be a very exceptional editor who can bring out 100 issues without any of his NUJ members' assistance. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it may be, the fact is that journalists attribute the fact that they fell behind in their living standards to weakness, and this is the reason for their support of the closed shop. Thus, while I am saddened by their change in approach, the reasons for it are not far to seek.

It is easy if one wants power for a litigimate purpose, such as industrial bargaining, to convince oneself that it will not be used for an illegitimate purpose, but neither journalists nor anyone else should fall into that obvious trap, as I think it to be, in the case of the Press. If the militant minority persuade their fellow journalists that this power is necessary for industrial bargaining purposes, that militant minority will certainly contain some who are determined to use it for political purposes. In the hands of such people, if they obtain power on the Executive of the NUJ, this power will amount to a power to determine that some ideas shall find expression and some shall not if a closed shop is established.

If one ever thought it was fanciful to imagine that this might happen, the case of the North London area branch of the NUJ, which was quoted by Lord Orr-Ewing, shows that it can happen. I do not think it has been denied, following the letter to The Times which he quoted, that it did happen; to recommend the distortion or suppression of fact in pursuit of what they call a constructive policy on race reporting is a concept which entirely subverts the idea of a free Press. The idea that power over a union with a closed shop should pass to people who might use it in this way will be abhorrent to your Lordships, and certainly will be abhorrent to the vast majority of journalists; yet that is the power which a closed shop would certainly confer if newspaper managements were weak enough to concede it to a central body like the NUJ.

If they were to concede it, possession of the NUJ card would amount to a licence to write in the Press; we should have a licensed Press with the NUJ issuing the licences. In my view we have to conclude that the NUJ's need for a closed shop for bargaining strength—I have already said that I have great sympathy for the reasons—must yield to the greater public need of free access to the Press. It is no good saying that in practice the power to affect Press freedom conferred by the closed shop would not be abused. The danger would be there and it must not be tolerated.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, is right to say that the danger is equally there and has indeed been much more frequently used in the past by proprietors. What he said was absolutely fair. I thought his speech was a model of good sense, and I was very interested and glad to hear his advice to editors to be robust in refusing pressures from workers who, because they are part of the production process, feel they should have some influence on the contents and have a right to have their views represented before the paper comes out. Weakness on the part of editors on occasions has been deplorable.

Of course it is true that proprietors have exerted this influence in the past, but the basic difference is that there is a variety of proprietors. Furthermore, the supply of those willing to serve as proprietors does not appear to be drying up. As The Economist said last week—and I think it hit the nail on the head— Only rich men, it seems, are foolish enough to keep as many newspapers going as a democratic country deserves. They distort news and comment, but keep a greater variety of both. So long as there are enough newspapers around, the distortion does not matter too much. The Beaver himself discovered that propaganda and manipulation of news in a free market for ideas can be counter-productive". Proprietors have misused their power in the past and they will do so in the future, but experience shows—and we should take some comfort from this—that it is much harder for proprietors to put pressure on editors today than it used to be, especially if a paper is successful. It is much easier if it is not a successful paper, but then there is perhaps some excuse for it. A successful editor need not and will not tolerate interference, and the proprietor fortunate enough to have a successful editor in charge of his paper would be foolish to put his good fortune at risk by intervening.

Perhaps I may be permitted to assure your Lordships, if such an assurance is needed, that Pearsons have not in 20 years' ownership of the Financial Times ever attempted to put pressure on the editor in any way. I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, in his place, for I think that he would confirm that. I am not sure that we can claim any great virtue. The fact is that the Financial Times is a very successful paper and we should have been foolish to try to influence it in any way. However, whatever the sins, actual or potential, of proprietors there are several of the latter. They do not monopolise the Press, whereas a powerful union without whose good will or licence no one can write for the Press regularly, if at all, could do so and this seems potentially 10 times more harmful than any individual proprietor.

That brings me to the last point that I want to make. There can be no freedom without diversity. We need mere newspapers, more outlets for points of view, not fewer. More newspapers are perfectly possible if the costs of production can be reduced, as they can be if the technology now available is introduced at economic manning levels. As your Lordships know, a joint committee of the employers and trade union leaders in the newspaper industry has worked out proposals for the introduction of new technical processes in a way which it was hoped was both realistic and generous, taking full account of the social and human factors, no less than the economic. I am sorry to say that the proposals were voted down by the membership of most of the unions concerned, though not by the NUJ. The NUJ voted for it, even if not by a very large majority.

One can sympathise only too well with the anxieties of people whose existing interests are threatened. We all tend to react in exactly the same way when our interests are threatened. I have great sympathy with the people who voted down these proposals, but the plain fact is that the threat of unemployment is not averted by saving old jobs which are uneconomic. It is averted by creating new ones. This truth will ultimately force us to change. I have complete confidence in that outcome; I am sure that resistance to change will be overcome with understanding and after a lot of hard bargaining, and that we shall eventually get a larger number of newspapers in both Fleet Street and elsewhere. I believe that the trends towards closing down will be reversed, but we have a long way to go before that process matures.

That is the prescription for a free Press and, let me emphasise, for the prosperity of journalists. The imposition of a closed shop is not. I conclude by assuring your Lordships that I believe this issue to be so important that, though I am not particularly anxious for the assistance of the law—that is another matter—no management with which I am connected will concede that principle. If it were conceded in principle, I should cease to have anything to do with it.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have to declare an interest because, like my noble friend Lord Jacobson, I am a card-carrying NUJ member and have been all my adult life. In fact, I think that I was the 350th member of the Central London branch, which puts me way back with Adam and Eve.

I am intervening today not from any strong purpose except that I was waiting to hear what on earth the debate was all about. I suspected that it would take the form that it has taken. We have had the repetition of most of the things that we have heard before from both sides, and we are still no clearer as to what should be the answers to this problem. I suspect that, like my other colleagues—and I may say that the NUJ is probably the strongest union in the House of Lords—I have regarded a job as a profession. I certainly did not regard myself as part of an industry until quite late in my career. Then, you realise that, in the editorial or journalistic side, you are a quite insignificant part of an industry and that the whole of your capacity for expression, which is what most journalists want, apart from salary—they want to read themselves in the newspapers and they want people to know what they think—can be cut off by the man who ties the string on the parcels at the despatch point. We are all part of a very cumbrous system and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, that we are a long way behind the technological capacity which could make this industry of ours effective and prosperous.

I remember in 1929 the editor of the Daily News asking me to write an article on the future of newspapers. I described the fatuous situation that existed as a result of which I wrote something on a piece of paper, handed it to a sub-editor, who put a heading on it, the heading was approved and so on; it then went to the compositors, who set the type and handed it to the "mat" maker, who handed it to the stereo man. Ultimately, it got to the point where it was tied up by the gentleman with the piece of string, thrown into a van and taken to a railway station, put on a train, thrown off the train at Grantham or wherever it might be, dismantled by a wholesaler and rewrapped for the retailer, unwrapped by the retailer and handed to the newsboy who even today brings it to me up 75 stairs in the city of Edinburgh.

That was a newspaper. To me, it was completely and utterly nonsensical, and we realised that. In fact, I did a description of how one could deliver a newspaper directly into the home. In those days, we only had telephoto, but I made the most of that and assumed that we could deliver straight into the home. NATSOPA refused to print the article. That was in 1929. They have now been overtaken by events in the shape of all the potential technological changes that exist and that are highly efficient, as we can see elsewhere. Therefore, what we are struggling for and talking about is not just the closed shop or how we are to work out a charter for editors or journalists; it is the survival of an industry, the survival of the printed word. This is one of the tragic things that I see happening all over the world. There is the possibility that we shall rely on our ears and eyes and forget how to read or forget what we ought to read. So we are really struggling for even more than just the relationships of journalists or the question of a charter.

On the question of the charter, I agree with my noble friend Lord Jacobson and the noble Lord, Lord Gibson; I cannot imagine anything more futile than for the Minister to sit down and try to work out a charter of this kind. Such a matter shows a great unreality about our discussions. I think that this was felt by us journalists in this House, and no doubt those in another place. I welcomed the valiant efforts of my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby to try to find a meaningful solution, but at the same time I, and I believe all of us, realise that this is not the way things work in newspapers. There is no way—a long way short of stopping a paper altogether—in which to achieve the effective production of a newspaper that does not involve a strict and genuine relationship between the editor on the job and the people who produce the paper.

Never in my experience did I find myself in such great disagreement with my editor that we could not come to some agreement as to how we should behave like grown-ups. I am not talking now of Party politics. Further, I cannot remember any time in my experience of the NUJ chapels when we did not come to settlements and agreements. We had our disputes with the editor, but I assure your Lordships that these were never on a Party political line, but rather they basically and genuinely involved the concern of professional people engaged in a professional job— producing what is called a newspaper. We had considerable feelings about the kind of newspaper for which we ought to be working, but that did not lead to confrontation or the kind of troubles which we are talking about now.

To me it is absolutely inconceivable ever to have a legal charter which would simply determine what sensible people ought to do and how they ought to think in the fairly drastic and fierce business of producing a newspaper on time. As has been pointed out, one of the weak points of our craft or our industry is this urgency of beating the clock, which gives so many opportunities for putting a spanner in the works. Let us be quite clear about that.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for having raised this question. At least it reminds us that there is a body of people—my profession, journalism—who are genuinely concerned to produce the kind of newspapers which should be a credit to this country. The people who are degrading—and I use that word deliberately—our newspapers are not the journalists who are writing for them, but the people who are commercialising them in the way that is happening now, and which I find quite indefensible. We are not producing newspapers nowadays; we are producing magazines with as much sex as can possibly be packed into them.

We get very hot around the collar about freedom of speech and defence of liberty. I am all for this. But the fact is that the people who will help to maintain this freedom and liberty, and justify it, are the working journalists. I assure your Lordships that the working journalists are most concerned about the freedom of speech and the freedom to write and to be read. It is their job; and it is their hope and their aspiration to be read. I can assure your Lordships that the journalists are not the people in this bogy which has been built up and which we are talking about this evening.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it possible to overstate the importance of the matter raised by my noble friend, Lord Orr-Ewing, and the speeches of all noble Lords who have spoken so far this evening in this debate have reinforced that view. The House will therefore be particularly grateful to my noble friend for raising this matter tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who has just spoken, complained about the commercialism of modern, latter-day newspaper proprietors. But given the commercial circumstances in which we live, do you wonder at it, my Lords? I was particularly impressed, as I think we all were, by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, who gave views which clearly were based on sound and long experience. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, complained that the Press charter might do more harm than good. When the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was pressing his Amendments a year or so ago we all, certainly on this side of the House, wondered about the effect that the charter would have; but that was the best solution that we could get, and even that we were not very happy about, and indeed the Government were obliged to use the Parliament Act to bring that solution into force. But at the time it was advanced, at least in some quarters, as a compromise.

Owing to the fact that this is a short debate I do not propose to embark upon a long philosophical dissertation, but rather to consider some of the more practical risks to which we are exposed by allowing unions the licence end freedom which has been so aptly described already by so many noble Lords. I should like to start by saying that I believe that the role of the trade unions, whether in the newspaper business or in the broadcasting industry, or indeed in any other, is to promote and foster the wellbeing of their members—all of their members. I think that, on the whole, they do that task very well. Many noble Lords tonight have claimed membership of the National Union of Journalists. I cannot claim membership of that union, but I am a member of another union. Of course it is right that in pursuit of these aims the unions should be entitled to consult management or Government, or indeed among themselves, but in the media industries which concern us tonight the alarm bells have begun to ring because it is said that the unions are now stepping beyond the bounds of what we regard as acceptable.

Is this a false alarm, my Lords, or can the problems be handled by the industry itself? First, the National Union of Journalists is now actively enforcing a closed shop throughout almost all the national and provincial newspapers. That alone would have caused hardly a ripple, for closed shops exist in many industries, both public and private. As I have said previously, this topic was exhaustively discussed when we were considering the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill a few months ago. But the burden of our complaint tonight is not the simple desire of the NUJ to achieve a closed shop, but rather the lengths to which that union will go to enforce it, and, above all, the regime which is implemented once a closed shop has been created.

My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has given us some very serious examples of the action of the NUJ taken to enforce a closed shop; but grave though these are, I myself attach even greater importance to the actions taken on instructions issued by the union members as to the line that they should take when reporting matters on which the union has a particular view. Clearly this is to be deplored. I hope and believe that the examples described by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, particularly those stories about the National Front, are merely cases of over-enthusiasm by local officials, rather than the considered view of the union itself.

I do not yet think that we have reached the point where the unions, in particular the NUJ and the printing unions, are exercising a totally unreasonable control over the editorial prerogative, but the NUJ themselves are certainly influencing, if not controlling, the selection of those who contribute to our papers and broadcasts, and I believe this is unhealthy. It is to be hoped that the Minister's Press charter, when it appears, will nip this undesirable trend in the bud.

Many of your Lordships have spoken about the closed shop, and I think it right that I should state quite clearly where we on this side of the House stand on the closed shop, not only in the printing and newspaper industries but really right across the spectrum. First of all, we believe that closed shops should not be created without the consent of the workforce involved. We secondly believe that existing employees should not be forced to join a union against their will. Thirdly, individuals who have strong personal convictions, perhaps of a religious nature, which make it impossible for them to join a union should be exempted. It is also important that any closed shop agreement should protect the rights of members of professions whose codes of conduct forbid them to take part in industrial action. Finally, we believe that an independent tribunal ought to be available to consider the cases of people who have strong personal convictions against trade union membership, or who are arbitrarily excluded or expelled from particular unions.

My Lords, there is another area where there is considerable cause for concern. It is widely believed that the financial straits in which the newspaper industry, particularly the national newspaper industry, now finds itself is the result of chronic overmanning which has continued for a good many years. The lengths to which the printing uions are prepared to go, in particular, to preserve the number of jobs, often very highly paid jobs, is really a scandal. It is no exaggeration to say that the impending (as we believe) reduction in the number of London evening newspapers from two to one is an indirect but clear result of this problem. The unions do not seem to understand that by forcing uneconomic manning levels on newspapers, closures I will result and the total number of jobs available will be reduced. I should have thought that that was as clear as a pikestaff, but it has not appprently dawned on the men themselves.

The industrial muscle available to unions in all spheres is also a matter giving cause for concern. I refer in particular to their power to influence matters quite divorced from their own sphere of activities. My noble friend Lord Ferrier, who had hoped to speak tonight but who unfortunately has been called away, reminds me of how the reporting of Parliamentary matters has declined in quantity, in particular, over the years, to the point where nowadays only two, or at most three, national dailies include any appreciable coverage of our proceedings—and that, too, is sometimes very sketchy. As pressure mounts upon editors to include only commercial copy, it is not inconceivable that papers will begin to edit political views with which they do not agree even more sharply than hitherto. I believe that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has introduced an important and vital topic this evening, and we are grateful to him for it. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for a tardy arrival and for the disadvantage of not having heard most of the previous speakers, but I want to make only two relatively brief points and I think they are probably points unlikely to have been affected by observations previously made because of their essential character. The first point I should like to make is this. I think it is important to review the situation since the very protracted and corrosive battle we had last year and the year before on this issue, but I think it would be unfortunate, in some ways, to reopen it in all its aspects at this moment. I think that at this moment, when efforts are being made to determine what a Press Charter ought to be, and when, if I may venture to say so, the electoral situation must leave it uncertain whether there will be a Press Charter at all, detailed discussion on the matters of dispute between us cannot, probably, be very helpful.

I can bring to the House a report of the current situation in so far as your Lordships may not have received it, because I participated in the Press Charter discussions; and I think that, if it has not already been done (and even if it has been done it would be right to repeat it), a tribute should be paid to Lord Pearce for the way in which he struggled to achieve an agreement against impossible odds. It was evident from the outset that to attain an agreement where there was such a deep cleavage of opinion on the matter would require powers even exceeding his, but his efforts were so wise, so tenacious and really so perceptive that one felt one almost owed it to him to reach an agreement, and it was certainly a personal sadness to me that the negotiations collapsed, as I thought they would have to collapse, in circumstances where he did not get his reward of having achieved such an agreement. I think it is right that we should send a tribute to him from this House for the efforts that he made, and, on the whole, for the extraordinarily conciliatory atmosphere that he contrived to provide, which I think will reap benefits in the future. I think he did remove some of the heat, some of the corrosion, some of the elements of distrust that have made the position more difficult and which, removed, will make it easier.

My Lords, the second point I should like to make is on the question of a closed shop. What do we mean by a closed shop? On the question of a closed shop designed to protect the industrial negotiations of people to maintain the proper wage level, to ensure that no single member can jettison the negotiations or damage them so that they cannot earn a proper wage, I think there would be very little disagreement in this House that that was by no means an improper thing; that no single person should have the power to disrupt and destroy negotiations being conducted by other people which related purely to industrial considerations. But that was not what this was about. What this was about was that some of us, in an increasing number, recognised that industrial considerations had no place in relation to creative activity; and one has to accept that there are certain aspects of human behaviour, certain activities, where it is impossible to permit the fullest and freest industrial negotiation because that is impairing freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to produce what a man has a right to produce in the way of an intellectual exercise.

That really was the cleavage, and I said time and time again that if someone would come forward with a proposal for allowing the fullest and freest industrial negotiation unimpaired or undamaged by questions of a closed shop, I am quite sure that a method could have been found for dealing with it. But what had to be dealt with was that this legislation permitted and permits the possibility that once a closed shop is introduced a man may not be able to write for a newspaper, and ultimately write for a publisher, because he can be excluded from a union or expelled from a union without any appropriate legal redress. That was what the issue was about and that is what it is about. It is not about anything else; and it is to restore that situation that I hope this House and the other place will one day set their minds with the knowledge of what the real issue is: not in order to provoke industrial discord, not in order to attack trade unions—because one of the things that needs to be said here really relates to the terms of this Motion. I think we ought to be very indebted to Lord Orr-Ewing for having brought the matter to the attention of the House at a moment, I think, when it is quite useful that there should be a discussion, if perhaps not too protracted a discussion; and his Motion talks about "the trade unions".

On the whole, this is a matter which relates to journalists. I do not think, with very few exceptions, that one has to excite oneself about the possibility of the print unions in this connection. It is of course the case that the print unions have occasionally misbehaved, that they have sought to intervene and to prevent something being published; but, on the whole their concern is purely with industrial matters. Over recent months when I have had dealings with them—I have had dealings with them over the years—I do not think anyone need sense a danger to freedom of speech or to liberty from their activities, although obviously there are small elements in all the unions who seek to turn to advantage any kind of legislation which enables them to disrupt the sort of society that we want, that we enjoy and that we think is right. That is quite a different question. It is how we deal with those elements in unions, small but powerful, which can take command and do irreparable damage if allowed to take command. But that is a different question.

On the question of the problem of free speech, this is something which relates almost entirely to journalists. It also relates to a relatively limited number of journalists. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, when he said that most journalists are as concerned about the freedom of speech as I am and as your Lordships are. But that is not the point. The point is that, led by industrial considerations, led, I think, by advice and recommendations which did not bring the real issue into relief, they have failed to see a danger which other people perceive only too clearly: that if you allow any union the right to say who shall be a member of that union, in circumstances where if a man is not a member of the union he may not write, he may not express his thoughts, he may not express his opinions or divulge what he has learned, that is the end of true democracy if it is permitted to happen without restraint and control.

My Lords, we discussed this subject at very great length. The situation has now been reached where the important thing is to see what sort of Press charter will be brought before Parliament for consideration. I have deep misgivings that the sort of Press charter that we might possibly have negotiated, with a slightly more conciliatory attitude on all sides, and certainly through no fault of the distinguished judge who presided, will not be the charter that will now emerge from the Minister. I think that one should repeat how obnoxious is the notion of a Press charter which is imposed upon a free Press by a governmental Minister in circumstances where, so far as I know, there is no parallel in the Free World for such a thing having been done. I think it is unfortunate that such a charter should emerge in this way but I think that, equally, we should not prejudge it. It may be that some of the dangers and problems that we have apprehended and are concerned about will be dealt with in a liberal and even a constructive fashion. One hopes that this may be so. One must wait and see.

I think that it is important to emphasise that what we are concerned with is not in any way to trammel upon or restrict the trade unions activities in regard to industrial negotiations or the right of a man to demand the best possible wage that he can. That is not the issue. It has never been the issue. Time and time again it has been alleged against me and against the publishers that our concern is to tread into the dust the faces of these poor, infirm, weak workers, having no industrial power and with no muscle, in order to ensure that they receive minimum wages. This is a burlesque in the way that I am presenting it; but it is also a burlesque of the facts to any extent at all. It is not the desire, nor has it ever been the desire, of anyone I represent or for whom I speak to become involved in any way in any curtailment of the right of the workers to earn the best wages that they can. But in so far as the possibility of doing this involves the concession of a right to exclude a man from the practice and profession of writing, that is totally unacceptable. I hope that it will remain so and that it will be the subject of revising legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.

This brings me—and I do not intend to keep your Lordships for very long—to the very important question of what is to be done to preserve a free Press where papers are endangered, as they are today, by financial threats and similar curtailments operating on all fronts. The observation was made by the last speaker, and rightly made, that new technology might enable new papers to appear and might remove some of the grave economic threats that prevent the publication of newspapers because of costs. It may be so.

This will not be easily negotiated unless there is determined intervention on the part of the Government. I do not think that this matter can he dealt with by private negotiation. I know that my colleagues in the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, almost without exception, viewed with horror and repugnance any suggestion that there might be governmental assistance in relation to the publication of newspapers. This is not a horror or a repugnance that I share. I think that it behoves a free society to see that newspapers are published, free of control and free of interference, but in a fashion to enable as many as possible to appear; and that where the financial necessity involves some governmental assistance, then, under proper circumstances and under proper control, it should be given.

I was for seven years Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. I may say that I am perhaps better able than most to judge the likelihood of a man who writes anything regarding himself beholden to a Government grant or Government subsidy. I have never met greater alacrity or enthusiam in biting the hand that feeds them than I found among the people that we supported with subsidies. And I think that it is right and proper that it should be so.

It is a fanciful apprehension that you cannot devise a way to subsidise newsprint or to provide some independent organisation to ensure that papers in great trouble can have some governmental assistance. I can suggest one way in which it might be done at no cost to the public purse. The Annan Report, about which I may say one word in a moment, recommends that there should be a single programme journal published throughout the country and containing both sets of programmes. This is so wise and so overdue that it requires no comment. If the copyright in that journal can be vested in some independent body, for the proceeds to be used to sustain newspapers which are threatened by television, that would be a wise move. It would enable money to come in without further encroaching on the taxpayers' pocket and would enable independent-minded people to decide how much should be allocated. This is too big a question to be opened or discussed at this hour; but it is right that it should be touched upon.

When I consider the tragic consequences of there being no form of Government assistance when I think of the vital nature of newspapers in a modern society and, really, its total disregard in so many areas by people who ought to realise its vital nature, what are we to do if we had no newspapers containing, for example, theatrical criticisms, film criticism, or art and literary criticism; where would we find that adequately dealt with in television? I would not utter a word of criticism against television programmes unless very slightly provoked; but, as things are, it must be clear to those people concerned with the welfare of our society that newspapers must be preserved. There is so much they supply which is not supplied by any other means.

The preservation of our newspapers is crucial and vital yet we accept with composure the possibility that they can disappear one after the other—and, may I say, nobody is more concerned about the disappearance of good and important newspapers than I am and nobody is more concerned about the disappearance of bad, unimportant and vulgar newspapers than I am. To have a free Press you must have newspapers with opinions right across the board. You must have every kind of newspaper to supply every kind of need. This is not an élitist conception; you do not want newspapers dealing only with matters of artistic or literary criticism; you need newspapers to cater for every taste. It is an intellectual, constitutional and democratic disaster when those newspapers disappear—as they will unless something is done.

I hesitate to refer to the Royal Commission on the Press because it would be difficult to refer to it without seeming to be impolite to it; and this I would not want to do at all. But the fact remains that this Commission has now been sitting for a very long time. I do not know what report will emerge from it. It may possibly produce recommendations that will save us all and perhaps we shall go down on our knees in gratitude for the wonderful, imaginative devices that they have suggested to save newspapers and to keep them in publication.

What I do know is that they did produce an interim report, and produced it at a time when I was chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association. They came to us in advance and they said, "We are going to publish an interim report. Will you associate yourselves with it?" We answered, "Certainly. If there is any prospect of getting any relief, we will do so, with enthusiasm" One question we asked, to which we got an honourable reply, was, "Are you sure that if you make recommendations of financial character that are moderate and reasonable these will be implemented by the Government?" The answer was an emphatic, "Yes" I do not believe that they or anyone deceived us but I can only say that, literally within minutes of the recommendation they made to provide very modest assistance in the way of lower-interest loans, those proposals were rejected by the Government; or for practical purposes rejected because they said, "We will allow them to come into operation when total agreement has been reached in Fleet Street; we will allow them to come into operation with the introduction of agreed tariffs," or, "We will allow them to come into operation when the Messiah comes!" That, in effect, was what they said.

It was a very unfortunate approach to all of us that we should have been asked to co-operate in this situation with an outcome of the sort that eventuated. Nothing was done, and an enormous amount of time was wasted. I do not know what they are doing at the moment. I do not know what they are deliberating; they are burrowing away and, no doubt, will produce recommendations of the most startling and valuable character. So far as I am concerned, I can only say that I will view those recommendations against the background and the context of their interim report. They will have to be very effective recommendations indeed to atone for the total failure of that interim report and the sad waste of time and money it involved.

I would conclude by saying this: I believe a free Press means the widest possible distribution of newspapers that can be achieved. I have never believed the free Press is some abstract conception; it is the publication of as many papers as can be contrived, having the right to say what the man who controls, owns or has the say in the paper wishes to say. The only way in which there is an effective free Press is that there should be enough of these each contradicting, each commenting on, each interpolating what the others are saying. That can only be done by having enough newspapers to make it a possibility. If we do not have enough newspapers to make it a possibility, we shall be in appalling danger from the point of view of communications to the public at large and the right of people to know what is happening.

A man is astonishingly loyal to his newspapers. I remember in my home we first started by buying the Daily News, then we went over to the News Chronicle. We did not go over, I hasten to say, to the —Daily Mail. We then went to the.Daily Telegraph. We remained with each paper while it was in publication. The loyalty of people to their newspapers is one of the most remarkable phenomena in this country. On the whole, a man who buys the Daily Whatever-it-is, at birth—assuming that he can buy it at birth—will probably have the same newspaper, if it survives, on the day of his death. He reads it and he trusts it. He likes it; he is not wholly affected by it. The degree of propaganda that newspapers can achieve is strictly limited, as people acquainted with political matters well know.

But what it does is to enable the man to receive news through a medium that he trusts, respects and likes, using an idiom that is familiar to him, which he regards as honourable and in which he has faith. If we curtail this, if we create a situation where a man will know that what he is reading is being edited by unions, edited by an editor in the sense that he is not allowing a particular newspaper to appear, that there is no free passage of news, if he knows that there is a reduction in the number of newspapers to the point where the truth cannot emerge, we are living in a lesser society; we are living in a society where there is great danger to the things that we value.

I personally am very indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that he has made this debate a possibility. It is an interim debate; it is a debate that needs to be renewed, and renewed in extenso when we know what the Press charter is designed to contain, and when we have an opportunity of discussing that in detail. We cannot assert the proposition too often that in the society in which we want to live we must enable everyone to publish and express their views free from interference from any quarter whatsoever, except that quarter where it contrives to be some infraction of the law. Except where it is an infraction of the law, people must be entitled to publish what they want to say. Any artificial restriction relating to industrial negotiations or anything else is in our view—and in the view of all of us, if we think about it—an abomination.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, would he allow me to add two sentences to this interesting debate? Several speakers have been outraged that the NUJ tried to stop the coverage about the National Front. I think that there is much too much coverage about the National Front, both on radio, television and even in the Press. My Lords, that is all I wish to say.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I and my right honourable friend the Minister are grateful for the opportunity afforded to us by Lord Orr-Ewing's Motion today. I can assure all noble Lords that the speeches will be carefully considered by my right honourable friend. As has been indicated, he has the tremendous task of getting the negotiations about the charter, for which he is now responsible, into operation. It is not easy, as has been rightly indicated. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, overdid a little the sinister approach, in many directions. On the other hand, I thank him for his extreme courtesy in giving me a very comprehensive indication of what his speech would contain. I deeply appreciate that.

Many noble Lords have referred to the various industrial disputes that are taking place at the present time, particularly the Kettering dispute. I do not think that any right-minded noble Lord would expect me to make any contribution or express a point of view on these industrial disputes. So far as the Kettering dispute is concerned, I understand that certain negotiations are going on at the present moment which might possibly lead to an agreement. In those circumstances, it would be very wrong indeed to pass any comment. Noble Lords have also referred to what is a difficult question to some people regarding outside contributors—sporting personalities—being barred from making contributions to the Press. This is a matter for the Press charter. This will be negotiated along with other matters.

Praise has already been given to my noble friend Lord Jacobson; but I do not think that it is any exaggeration to say that all noble Lords, whether they are present or read the debate in Hansard, should pay close attention to the remarks made by somebody who has had a definite, positive, personal and distinguished career in the Press over many years. He brought the debate into its proper perspective and balance. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, made a similar contribution. I note his insistence on the Liberal attitude and the rights of the individual. He made reference also to the Kettering dispute.

The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, said emphatically that he will not accept the closed shop and will depart from the Financial Times if that occurs. I am not going to pass any comment about that. Personally, I am not a regular reader of the Financial Times; my financial situation does not warrant me doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made a constructive speech for which I thank him. Manning and other issues are matters for unions and management. The Royal Commission on the Press and the negotiations on the charter no doubt will ensure discussion on this matter.

My Lords, let us face the fact—this goes back a long time—that naturally, men in employment want to preserve their jobs, that is only human nature. We need to have a little understanding before we start so readily to condemn. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, made his usual brilliant contribution, firing words of wisdom at me at a machine gun rate. I fully appreciate them, particularly as noble Lords may not know that he has made a long journey to make his contribution to the debate. The House expresses gratitude to him for his attendance. I am grateful for his attitude towards the negotiations now being undertaken on the charter. He is prepared to wait and see and make a contribution. That is fair and reasonable.

We have had a debate of this character before, and at some length. The final outcome of the lengthy debate we had on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, which was eventually agreed by both Houses of Parliament, was the inclusion in the Bill of provision for the preparation of a voluntary charter on Press freedom to cover the issues of particular concern which have been identified. That provision is now firmly on the Statute Book and I do not wish to enter into what inevitably would be a fruitless debate about its merits. Parliament has agreed that a charter on the lines provided for under the Act is the most suitable way of meeting the concerns that have been expressed about Press freedom. We must give those provisions a fair trial before considering whether anything further is required, and I fervently hope that noble Lords will accept this.

Nevertheless, a number of concerns were expressed in the original discussions on the charter, and they have been repeated today. I do not complain about that, but before I talk specifically about the present state of play as regards the charter I feel I should revert to the general issues which the House debated at some length, and to explain again the general view expressed by Government spokesmen during the course of the debates. It is a view which I may say, has not changed significantly in the intervening period.

Clearly, the independence and freedom of the Press must be a matter of continuing concern to all Members of both Houses of Parliament. There was no disagreement about that when the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act was debated, and there is none now. The debate about the charter was, in the first place, not about whether Press freedom should be safeguarded but rather about the nature of the dangers to the Press that might arise and the best means of safeguarding its freedom. Moreover, a variety of people and factors in certain circumstances can pose a threat to the diversity of opinion and freedom of speech which, I am sure, we all want our Press to be able to continue to reflect. It should not be assumed that the actions of trade unions pose the only, and even the main, potential threat to the freedom of the Press. It remains the case that proprietors and editors still exercise the main control over who has access to the Press and what is printed. In their hands rests the greatest power to censor and distort and, therefore, the greatest responsibility for ensuring that there is no censorship and distortion. Who is prepared to assert in this Chamber tonight that they have always exercised that responsibility fairly and wisely?


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think it is quite wrong that this assertion should continue to be made day after day and year after year. An editor or proprietor controls one newspaper. He can say what he likes or be told what he likes in one newspaper. Another editor and another proprietor control another; and so we have in this country 1,500 newspapers, most of them under different control. It is quite wrong that encouragement should be given to the nation that, because there is an alleged censorship of this kind, the type of censorship to which this debate has been addressed can in any way be tolerable.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, should have been here—of course understand the reason for his absence—to listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, said on this subject. In any case, we must accept that, as trade unions and members of trade unions have responsibility, so editors and proprietors have a greater degree of responsibility, because they can close a newspaper, they can negotiate its sale to somebody else, and, consequently, have the paper closed down with a threat of unemployment to the workers involved. I would say quite definitely—I am not expressing the Government's view, but I do not think they would disagree—that this question of the death or departure of newspapers is not new. I could go back many years. I would list to the House the papers I used to read and for which I had great affection—and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and others have stated that one can feel affection for a newspaper —the News Chronicle the Star (for which I had a deep affection), the Daily Herald, Reynolds News and others.

In fact, the political viewpoint of papers today in this country is almost like the representation in your Lordships' House: it is rather overwhelming on the part of the Opposition. Your Lordships' House, of course, can be adjusted no doubt by common agreement, but I am not going to get involved in the adjustment of the Press in this debate. But it is a fact that over the years newspapers have tended to disappear, and gradually and surely one particular broad Right Wing approach has developed. And where are the others who have interests? Many people, of course, take the Guardian, but I am not going to advertise the Guardian tonight. And, of course, there are the Party papers. The Conservative Party own a paper, but on this side of the House Party members own a paper in Labour Weekly, an excellent journal. Having got that free commercial in, may I turn to the activities of trade unions, the principal topic of today's debate. There is something of a dilemma. Trade unions representing those who work in the newspaper industry clearly have the power to restrict the flow of information if they so wish, as transport workers have the power to restrict the flow of goods. However, Parliament has accepted that trade union action aimed at securing better terms and conditions of employment and over such matters, for example, as union membership, is generally legitimate and that the law should not attempt to interfere.

The question is, therefore, whether the law and the general freedom that the law permits to trade unions generally poses such a threat to Press freedom that a particular group of trade unions operating in the newspaper industry should be denied certain rights available to all other trade unions. Of course, the issue of Press freedom extends well outside the traditional ambit of industrial relations, but industrial relations issues which bear on Press freedom cannot altogether be extracted from the industrial relations situation in which they arise, and be dealt with on a basis which ignores industrial relations realities.

The Government have consistently said that they did not believe that the threat to Press freedom was such as to justify any statutory special prohibitions relating to the Press alone. The retention of something along the lines of certain provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, complete with penal sanctions, perhaps, for a small group of unions would be anomalous and would prove unenforceable. So far as I know, there have been few recent suggestions that other laws affecting the operations of other elements in the newspaper industry should in any way be modified or extended because of the particular importance of Press freedom and independence.

In assessing the potential threat that the activities of trade unions are alleged to pose to freedom of the Press, I think that this House ought to take into account several further points. First, since much of the debate has centred inevitably on the implications of closed shop agreements, it is worth noting that such agreements have existed in the production areas of most newspapers for many years and that, at least on some newspapers, a de facto closed shop appears to exist for journalists now without apparently any harmful consequences. Secondly, the law relating to the closed shop and other matters of concern that have been raised is now broadly the same as that which existed before 1971. In fact, closed shops are now lawful again. Thirdly, although of course industrial action on the part of trade unions in the newspaper industry may result in the temporary disruption in the flow of information, there have been few examples that I can find of actions taken by trade unions primarily designed to distort or suppress information, though interference with the flow of information as an industrial tactic has, of course, been employed on several occasions.

Against that background, the Government's view was and is that only something acceptable to all the parties concerned in the industry provides an effective means of protecting the freedom of the Press. The Government, therefore, encouraged talks within the industry on this subject and were eventually prepared, in the context of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, to give their support to the idea of a voluntary charter for Press freedom. We had hoped, of course, that the industry would be able to agree such a charter itself in the period, without outside involvement or assistance. We are therefore extremely sorry that, at the end of the 12 months' period provided under the Act, no such agreed charter has emerged.

Nevertheless, I should like at this point to pay tribute, both on my own behalf and on behalf of the Secretary of State, to the effort of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, who chaired the talks with the industry, to try to secure an agreed charter. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has already indicated, the whole House must be very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, for the great efforts that he has made—efforts which have not so far been completely successful. But we may hope that when the Minister negotiates with the noble and learned Lord, the Royal Commission on the Press and many others, we shall achieve something which we all desire.

But we must remember that agreement was reached on a number of points; in particular, the definition of what constitutes "improper pressure", and an agreement both not to exert such improper pressure and to resist it when exerted by others. Agreement was also reached that newspaper editors should be excluded from the provisions of any union membership agreements—a matter of particular concern in the original Parliamentary discussion of the charter. But I must remind your Lordships that there remains some disagreement as to the exact definition of an "editor". No definite agreement was reached on the question of access for outside contributors, which has been referred to in this debate, and on the vexed question of the application to journalists of closed shop agreements. That, more or less, summarises the attitude taken in this debate by most speakers.

Therefore, the task falls to the Secretary of State for Employment to draft the charter. He will in due course be undertaking extensive further consultations with those concerned within the industry, and with others, to see whether further progress can be made towards securing an agreed charter on the lines required under the terms of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. He and his Department have, in the meantime, been considering the report submitted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, and the further submissions from individual parties on points of disagreement, which Lord Pearce himself requested. As a first step, I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will shortly be meeting Lord Pearce to discuss his report and plans for future consultations.

Naturally, however, the Secretary of State will not wish to embark on a programme of further consultations until he has received the report of the Royal Commission on the Press, which is due in the early summer, since the Commission will, as we understand it, quite properly be commenting on the issues relevant to the charter. The Secretary of State wishes to have a chance to consider the Royal Commission's views carefully before taking any steps towards preparing a draft charter for submission to Parliament. Naturally, this House will not expect me to say anything this evening about the contents of the charter. It would, of course, be undesirable for me in any way to prejudice or pre-empt the outcome of the delicate consultations which the Secretary of State will have to set in train.

There were, when the charter provisions were drawn up, certain criticisms of the role of the Secretary of State in this exercise. In this context, there are two points that I should like to make. First, the Secretary of State is required, under the terms of the legislation, to incorporate any points that have been agreed between the parties in any charter which he submits to Parliament, and to consult all those concerned before he submits such a draft charter. He will thus be required to hear and take note of the views of the industry itself. Secondly, the approval of the charter is, of course, ultimately not a matter for the Secretary of State but for Parliament. Both Houses of Parliament will have an opportunity to express their views on the merits of the charter in which they have taken such an interest, and they will have the final say.

I have not referred to broadcasting. As has been stated, the BBC have a Charter and, by and large, they are safeguarded. So far, we have had no real grounds for serious concern over the issue. They will have an opportunity, through the Annan Report, together with other opportunities, to make a contribution on the Press charter if they so wish. I should like to express the view that, so far as news broadcasting is concerned—and I include radio: most of your Lordships have referred to television—it is of a standard which is equal to, if not better than, that anywhere else in the world. I think that we should recognise that fact and be grateful for it; other countries are not so fortunate.

Finally, I should like to say a few words specifically about the NUJ, although I do not want to cause trouble. I had originally thought that it was better to avoid commenting on the activities of the NUJ—which I should explain stands for the National Union of Journalists—and of other organisations in the newspaper industry. However, so much has been said about the NUJ this afternoon, some of it slightly exaggerated, that I feel I must correct some misconceptions. I hold no brief for the NUJ. From time to time, like many other democratic bodies, they have taken decisions which were unwise and ill-considered. I recall that on at least one occasion Ministers of the present Administration saw fit to express the view that a particular decision of the union had implications for Press freedom which the union ought to have considered before acting. However, I cannot believe that the NUJ pose the kind of threat to Press freedom that has been suggested in one or two quarters of this House today.

I know that the NUJ remain committed to the principle of Press freedom. The NUJ's own Code of Professional Conduct, to which reference has been made, reads as follows: Freedom in the honest collection and publication of news facts and the rights of fair comment and criticism are principles which every journalist should defend. Journalists should strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship. Although they may not always be able to live up to that very high standard, it seems to me to be a most commendable objective to which I should have thought everyone here and outside could willingly subscribe.

Of course, we all wish to ensure the freedom and independence of the British Press which we value so much, and that freedom is not threatened from any quarter. But I think noble Lords should not be so pessimistic about the ability of the kind of voluntary and non-enforceable charter envisaged in the legislation to counter threats to the freedom of the Press from the unions or from any other quarter. Although the fact that the various parties represented at the talks on the Press charter were not able to reach agreement, and this represents a set-back to such hopes, the Government still hope that it will nevertheless be possible for a charter to be produced which can be accepted and adhered to by all sides, and which will ensure that the threats to Press freedom which many noble Lords foresee do not, in fact, materialise. In the event that such a measure does not prove adequate, then I am sure that Parliament, and indeed the Government themselves, will wish to consider further action. But that time has not yet come.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, I think that it has, inadvertently, been my privilege to act as a catalyst. As a result of this debate, we have heard some outstanding speeches from all parts of the House by many of those who have spent all their working lives in the newspaper industry. This is typical of the type of debate when your Lordships' House is at its very best. Certainly, in my 20 years' service in the House of Commons I never heard such a well-informed debate, with so much experience behind each speech.

I have sought to outline how our free Press might be endangered, and of course I admit that the examples which I gave, where the NUJ fell below the high standards of their code of conduct, were generated by the small but dedicated minority, and not of course by the tolerant majority of the NUJ who set very high standards indeed. However, we know what a dedicated minority can produce these days. It can produce quite alarming results. The best safeguard, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, have so wisely said, is a multiplication of sources of information —national papers, local papers, weekly papers, television and radio stations—all contributing so that one may choose and obtain a balanced view.

I have some knowledge of new computer technology. I believe that for the first time for several decades newspaper production could again become economically viable and profitable. The task is not to hold on to old and outdated jobs but to create new papers and new jobs. If this is done, the industry thereby will help to preserve the democracy which we all try to serve. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.