§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER rose to call attention, in the light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Press, to the importance of a free, diverse, responsible and thriving Press; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to introduce what is, I believe, the first major public discussion of the report of the Royal Commission on the Press, an industry whose independence and prosperity are obviously crucial to the survival of our free society. My first task is to express my thanks to the Government Whips who have made time available for this debate. Secondly, I must in particular thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, who, in order to facilitate the appearance on the Order Paper of this Motion, withdrew a not dissimilar Motion in his name from the list of short debates coming up for ballot. He is one of many noble Lords who are about to speak who will be speaking from deep first-hand experience of some of the problems, and whose observations will therefore be listened to with interest and studied with the greatest of care.
§ As I have mentioned one noble Lord who will be speaking, I hope I may be forgiven for also mentioning one noble Lord who will not be speaking. I have been particularly asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, to express his most profound apologies to your Lordships' House for his inability, through very real personal reasons, to be present this afternoon. He asks me to assure your Lordships that any observations made in the course of this debate on the rôle of the Press Council in particular will be studied again with the greatest concern and care.510
§ My next task is to express the gratitude of, I am sure, the whole House to the members of the Royal Commission for the work which they did. They have produced not merely an interim report and a final report and a series of appendices, but also a number of ancillary volumes which will provide a mine of information in which researchers into the Press will be able to quarry contentedly for many years to come. They have also produced a series of recommendations, some of which we shall be discussing this afternoon. Not all, of course, will meet with unanimous approval, but I believe it can be at least said of most of them that they are practical, moderate proposals.
§ This Royal Commission has not fallen into the trap that so many do of assuming that merely because its appointment has been announced it is therefore necessary to embark on far more sweeping recommendations than are really justified. For these reports there is particular gratitude due to Professor McGregor, the chairman. I need perhaps say no more than that your Lordships look forward with eager anticipation to his imminent arrival in this House, and to the opportunity of listening to him participate in our debates in future. As I have referred to Professor McGregor I perhaps could also refer in one sentence to his predecessor, a very old friend of mine, Sir Morris Finer, whose untimely death robbed the community of a highly valued public servant.
§ I now have the task, in some 20 minutes or so, of covering exhaustively a field in which it would in fact take some 20 hours to scratch the surface. It seemed to me, therefore, that it might be of assistance to try to sub-divide the topic by using the four adjectives which I have done in the Motion before your Lordships: free, diverse, responsible and thriving. The need for a free Press needs no argument. The threats to freedom of the Press come perhaps from two separate sources. First, from unnecessary legal constraints, and secondly from improper pressures. Among the unnecessary legal constraints I would put high on the list Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, and venture to hope that that might be drastically reformed in the very near future, bearing in mind the urgent necessity of coupling with any such reform a sensible, modest freedom of information Act which would 511 give the Press, and the public, a right of access to many Government documents to which at the moment that access is denied. In Chapter 19 of the Royal Commission report many of the members clearly approve of that course being taken. It is certainly one that has enthusiastic support from these Benches.
§ The second legal constraint is the law about contempt of court. Again I would, if I may, support the Royal Commission's recommendations that the proposals of the Phillimore Committee should be implemented at the earliest possible moment. It has always in particular seemed to me to be quite outrageous that the Press should be in a position where they have to be frightened off pursuing matters which are very much in the public interest, because some politician has issued a writ without the slightest intention of ever starting proceedings but merely to use it as a gag upon any further discussion.
§ The third area of legal constraint in which I would again welcome the Royal Commission's report is the suggested abolition of the private prosecution for criminal libel, leaving it available as a remedy but only to be brought with the consent of the legal authorities. The other legal constraints include the constraints on the law of privacy; the constraints by the law of defamation. Again it is high time perhaps that both the Younger and Faulks Committees' reports were acted upon by the Government. I welcome particularly the Royal Commission's suggestion in relation to the Faulks Committee report that there should be improved protection for the Press when they innocently distribute matter which turns out to be defamatory.
§ Those are some of the legal constraints. The improper pressures other than legal constraints which may harm the freedom of the Press are sometimes said to be three in number. There is, first, improper proprietorial pressures. I venture to doubt whether the spectre of the tyrannical newspaper proprietor dominating a cowed and abject editorial staff has had very much reality for many years past. Certainly the Royal Commission found no real evidence of that. There is, secondly, sometimes said to be improper pressure from advertisers. Again I am happy to see that the Royal Commission 512 was able to destroy that as being largely a myth in present circumstances.
§ The third pressure which can be used improperly to limit the freedom of the Press and the one which is perhaps of most concern to your Lordships at this time is the pressure that, unhappily, can arise from action taken either by journalists or by the print unions. Noble Lords recognised that danger in the debates on the Labour and Trades Union Bill and, as a result, provisions for a Press charter are now about to come before both Houses of Parliament; it would be of assistance if the noble Lord, Lord Oram, could say when we can expect those to be laid before the two Houses.
§ The Royal Commission deals with some of the matters in the proposed charter, not in precise terminology, but in a way which may commend itself to many of your Lordships. It deals with the right of editorial freedom from union pressures, with the right of access for outside contributors—again, a most important matter—and it tackles the fundamental problem which faces us as to whether journalists should have a right to join a union and, if so, a union of their own choice. That, if it were so, would safeguard the position of the Institute of Journalists which at present is under threat.
§ The whole problem of the closed shop in journalism is difficult. I am aware of course that there have been closed shops in many houses for many years and that they can contribute to the successful conclusion of industrial negotiations, but in recent years two new dimensions of the whole problem have emerged. First, the National Union of Journalists has found itself obliged on occasion to take industrial action for entirely legitimate industrial purposes, although the result, often a result they much regret, is of course an interference with the free flow of news and information.
§ Secondly, there has been a development inside the union itself whereby a vocal minority has sought to interfere with the freedom of the Press, having no concern whatever about that freedom, having no concern whatever about the industrial conditions in which they and their colleagues work but having concern instead for an entirely different objective, which is, 513 as they declare, to overthrow society as we know it. I cannot help thinking that, if journalists are right to claim the right to know from Government and the Civil Service, the public is equally justified in claiming the right to know from journalists, and it must be recognised that the way in which the closed shop has operated is a potential danger to the flow of information.
§ The Royal Commission has in essence recommended on this issue that the closed shop in journalism should be given a run for a trial period of some three years, that it should be carefully monitored and that, thereafter, if it has been proving to act adversely to the interests of the public, there should be legislation to deal with it. It is, on the surface, an attractive compromise proposal. On the other hand, it may be that this is a nettle which must be grasped at this stage and which will have to be grasped when the Press Charter comes to be debated in your Lordships' House. It may be that your Lordships will feel when we come to do that, that journalists are so important to our society that, as with the Police Force or the Armed Forces, it is not possible to allow them to limit the flow of information and that they must be free to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join a union and take part in trade union activities.
§ The other recommendation I would mention as I pass from the Press Charter is the proposal in the Royal Commission Report that the Press Council might be made the Charter tribunal for the purposes of doing the monitoring and investigating alleged breaches. I am bound to say that I see grave difficulties in that; it seems to me that it would inevitably involve the Press Council in matters of extremely controversial industrial relations. It is a task for which they were not established and for which they are not really suited, and it is a task which might seriously interfere with the proper performance of their duties.
§ I have dealt in a few words only with the necessity for a free Press. A diverse Press means two things, does it not? It means, first, that we must look at the danger of monopoly in the control of the sources of information. That does not seem to me to be an imminent danger. At present, there are nine daily national 514 newspapers under nine separate ownerships, seven Sunday newspapers under six different ownerships, and a whole variety of provincial evening and morning newspapers and weekly periodicals. I do not think that at present there is an imminent danger of unfair monopolistic conditions arising. At the same time, I welcome the proposals of the Royal Commission that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission might have its powers strengthened in various ways so that it could deal with any threats of that nature that might arise in future.
§ At the same time as one is considering the inter-relationship of newspapers, one must consider also the inter-relationship between the Press and commercial radio and television. The Royal Commission recommends that publishing houses should not have any effective control of these alternative media. I wonder whether that goes far enough? I appreciate of course the financial advantages that some of the newspaper houses get out of their connections with the other media, but I am inclined to think that the importance of diversity is so great that it would be preferable if newspaper houses were not to have any substantial participation in the other media which are engaged in conveying sometimes similar news and comment.
§ Under the heading of "diversity" I would put, too, the question whether it is necessary to have a politically balanced Press. The Royal Commission established what I think many of us had already suspected, namely that there is a strong imbalance in that the Right Wing in politics is supported by a substantial majority of newspapers, taking it in terms of circulation. How important that is I do not know. I know—and I am not seeking to make a Party point—that in 1974 the Liberal Party polled 6 million votes without the support of a single committed Party newspaper and I am inclined to think that people who read newspapers are capable of making allowance for the political bias that is expressed in those newspapers and that, at present at any rate, this is not a problem which need concern us unduly.
§ Your Lordships will have read the minority report contained in the Royal Commission's final report, which appears to envisage a National Printing Corporation 515 as a subsidiary of the National Enterprise Board, with a launch fund and so on, obviously, reading between the lines, with the intention of securing the launch and continued existence of a serious daily paper to present the Labour Party and trade union viewpoint. I believe that the majority of the members of the Royal Commission were right to oppose any such suggestion, and I cannot help thinking that any newspaper which was spawned in such circumstances would almost inevitably prove to be monumentally unreadable.
§ I turn now to the third heading, a "responsible" Press; because if the community is to take steps by means of a Press Charter to ensure freedom for journalists, it must follow that journalists have a responsibility to the public to ensure that the facts that they present are accurate and that the comment which is presented, however partisan, is also fair—and the two words are by no means mutually exclusive. I do not want to sound unduly pompous in talking about the responsibility of the Press. Of course there is a place for trivial news items; of course there is a place for gossip columns, which can give innocent and harmless amusement. I do not believe it causes much public damage if the engagement of Prince Charles to a different young lady is announced every single day of the week, although sometimes, perhaps, the gossip columns become quite unnecessarily hurtful and malicious.
§ What I have in mind is not that sort of journalism: it is really the editorial responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably possible, that the facts which are presented are fair. The obvious example that will occur to your Lordships' minds is the recent case of the Daily Mail and the British Leyland/Lord Ryder story, where, if he will forgive my saying so, it does appear that the editor allowed his normal critical faculties to be momentarily overruled by his political enthusiasm, because it was clear—it must have been clear to a child—that the document which he was publishing under such headlines was one, the very nature of which called out for careful and scrupulous examination before publication was persisted in.
§ This raises what is to some extent a new area of journalism which has arisen 516 in the last few years: the whole field of investigative journalism, where, again, I believe, editorial responsibility is very great and is perhaps not always faced up to. It must of course be obvious that, at times, such journalism is of immense value to the community. The exposure by The Times of corruption in the Metropolitan Police Force is an obvious example. At the same time, it is clear, is it not, that any researcher doing that sort of work knows before he starts his research that unless his results are startling they will have no commercial value. The Sunday Times would not spread over four pages a story that the Israeli Government were not torturing Arab prisoners. As to the investigations that go on frequently into serious crimes and trials that have taken place, there would be no story in reporting after a trial that a convicted criminal had in fact been rightly convicted on the whole of the evidence presented to the court. I believe that editors must deal with this problem, and must exercise their critical faculties fully in looking at these stories, so that the public is not misled in the way that it has been from time to time in some of the stories that have appeared in recent months.
§ It is perhaps in this area that the Press Council has its most important function to perform. I have read and reread Chapter 20 of the Royal Commission's report. I hope the members of the Commission will forgive me if I say that in that particular chapter it seemed to me that from time to time the Commission was straining to find criticisms where cause for criticism was not, perhaps, fully justified. Of course, some of the criticisms have already been acknowledged by the Press Council and they have proceeded to act upon them; but there is one particular matter which I would mention for a moment, and that is the recommendation by the Royal Commission that there should be a codification of Press practice by the Press Council. I believe this fails to understand the real nature of the problem. Of course the decisions and the principles can be set out in a coherent order, but the problem must be faced, as we at the Bar Council had to face it when very similar situations arose, that once one has a codified structure as is suggested by the Royal Commission there is a real danger that the Press Council might find itself powerless to deal with a complaint which on the 517 face of it might be justified but which does not fit foursquare into any of the terms of the codification.
§ The last heading that I ventured to choose for this debate was the need for a "thriving" Press, and that, of course, again, is obvious. The national Press (I do not believe it is a problem which arises in the Provinces) cannot continue to depend upon the good will and the generosity of individual proprietors or associated companies. I know, of course, that the economic difficulties have been caused, very largely, for example, by the substantial rise in the cost of newsprint over the last few years. But it is a problem that the community must face up to. The Royal Commission tried to face up to it, first of all in its interim report, when it recommended public funds by way of loans from Finance for Industry. The interim report is now ancient history and appears not to have been acted upon by anybody. I believe, in fact, that the use of public money in order to save the Press would give rise to such great problems that it would prove to be quite impracticable.
§ The proper approach is perhaps a much less spectacular one. It lies very largely in the introduction as soon as possible of the new technologies into Fleet Street. This means, of course, that the present levels of overmanning would have to be drastically reduced; and that, in turn, means that there would have to be a substantial programme of voluntary redundancies. One was pleased to see that a few months ago the publishers and the trade union leaders had come together to recognise the need to introduce new technology, and had in fact agreed what they called "a programme for action." It is perhaps not entirely surprising that, against the background of 1½ million unemployed, a programme for voluntary redundancy did not appeal at once to the members of the unions themselves.
§ I do not think there is any short and simple answer to this problem. It will need, if I may say so, patient negotiation over the months, and it will need the improving and the fostering of good industrial relations in the publishing houses; but it will mean, I think, that Fleet Street, so far as its viability is concerned, will have to solve its own problems. There have been perhaps two encouraging developments in 518 the very last few days. There has been, first, the information that the various print unions are considering amalgamation, which would much assist the process of negotiation. Secondly, there has been the news, your Lordships will have seen yesterday, that in the Mirror Group negotiations appear to have been sucessfully concluded towards the introduction of the new technology.
§ There are many other matters about which I could have spoken. There is the training of journalists, in which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, played such a prominent part as a member of the Commission. There are other recommendations, some of which, of course, are of a controversial nature and cannot expect to be agreed to or accepted by all your Lordships Indeed I do not expect your Lordships, with the possible exception of my noble friends on these Benches, to agree with all, or indeed most, of my own comments. I know that the whole House will be united in its determination to safeguard the future of a free and viable Press as one of the principle bulwarks of our democracy. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, we must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for introducing this debate and also for making such a well balanced and thoughtful speech. He said that he did not expect everybody to agree with everything he said. I am afraid that I do not agree with everything that he said; and I am sure that he will not be surprised. Along with other noble Lords, I hope that your Lordships will let me indulge myself in declaring an interest—which is something we always do in this House—in terms of how long I have been connected with the industry. I have spent most of my working life connected with the industry in one way or another. I started life selling advertising space—perhaps not one of the easiest of jobs—and I have gone through doing most of the jobs around and about. I am currently in contact with journalists in this country and in Europe so that I feel that, at least, I am in touch with the problems that are facing the industry at the moment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, this is a good opportunity for us because it is the first time that the Royal 519 Commission Report has been debated since it was published in July 1977. The Commission put in an enormous amount of work and produced an enormous amount of reports. I am sure that they will be vastly useful. The sincerity of the Commission members and the hard work that they put in are unquestioned. At the risk of appearing a little ungracious, I would say that the recommendations that came out in the end were regarded in Fleet Street as not being particularly exciting and, in fact, somewhat disappointing. This is a pity after such a magnum opus; but perhaps it has something to do with the reason that the Royal Commission was put in hand.
It stemmed from Sir Harold Wilson's obsession about the Press; so that I hope that your Lordships will forgive my saying, in horse-racing terms, that one might describe the Royal Commission's breeding as being by paranoia out of misconception. In 1964, Sir Harold had a honeymoon with the Press. This went on for some time and then the relationship turned sour. All right, being objective along the line, there was perhaps a certain amount on both sides. The Press lost a certain amount of trust; he certainly lost trust; and this resulted in a very bad relationship, which is not a healthy thing. I am glad to say, speaking objectively, that the present Prime Minister has a very reasonable relationship with the Press. This is a good thing. It shows an objective viewpoint.
At any rate, the Royal Commission laboured hard for almost three years. Some of the recommendations are good. Some of the small ones the Press Council have implemented recently. I was a little disappointed on the matter of the recycling of paper. It did not come out as strongly as it might have done to achieve something at the end of the day. Another aspect at which I raised an eyebrow—and one which I cannot see many of the readers of the popular papers being pleased about—was that more space should be devoted to industrial relations. I feel that we get enough of that as it is.
But I take issue on the major issues such as safeguards. I am afraid that I consider that these are too vague and too toothless to have any effect at all. The safeguards are all well-meaning but none 520 provides protection of any substance. This is not the moment to debate them in detail, but I would recommend to your Lordships the Newspapers Society's leaflet entitled, Why the Royal Commission Safeguards do not Help, because it argues the case through. I believe that argument; and I do not think it can be left to people's goodwill; it is too important and it is too dangerous a subject. The real issues stem from Mr. Foot's notorious Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976. Despite your Lordships' determined stand, it became an Act on 25th March 1976—a black day, indeed, for democracy and the freedom of the Press.
Some good-intentioned people tried hard to explain to Mr. Foot the dangers that lay in it, in the belief that he did not fully appreciate the inevitable outcome of union Press censorship resulting from a journalists' closed shop. I submit that one should never underestimate Mr. Foot. He knew only too well what the results would be. In fact, his ruthless determination to achieve these ends is now only too apparent. His part in all this is graphically related in Nora Beloff's book, Freedom under Foot. It is very important reading.
Let us look at the background of the Press and at what has been happening. One must go right back to the boom in circulation at the beginning of the century. At that time, I think it is fair to say both journalists and print workers were exploited. It was a situation that bred distrust and that has gone on. One must look at the whole situation objectively. In those days, before the 1914–1918 War, an interesting point is that a linotype operator got four guineas a week and a journalist three guineas a week. This situation, up and down, has perpetuated itself to this day. There is an imbalance there between the print worker and the journalist. The pre-1939 War circulation battles are another of the causes of the present problems. This was where the unions started to feel their strength. Management were out to gain circulation at all costs. This is always disastrous because to give in, to make concessions—because you must get the paper out, and you must gain that issue, you must not lose circulation—leads people to make bad mistakes; for they do not think of the future.
521 During the last war, newsprint rationing damped down the situation until the 1950s when it started again. Again in a circulation boom situation, concessions were made by management. They were much bigger concessions; these have led to many of the problems that we have at the moment. In fact, we are now in one of the biggest circulation battles of all time. The problems are much greater and, this time, everybody has to think through for the future before they take decisions, because it is a make-or-break situation. I said the situation is not black and white. One has to make allowances.
It is easy enough to say that the papers are vastly overmanned, that people have to be dropped or there has to be voluntary retirement. It is a very emotive issue when it is your own job at stake. I am the first to realise this and I am sure many of your Lordships know it only too well. But an unreasonable situation has been built up. Not everybody is as active as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and when you have 82-years olds still on the staff, and their job is protected, it does not really make much sense. The unions must not take this kamikaze attitude. The industry has to be reduced in terms of manning. Apart from the Daily Mirror, we are still operating on 19th century hot metal technology on most of the papers. On that basis we are 33 per cent. overmanned at present. This is a conservative estimate. Across various papers it may vary but, overall, it is about 33 per cent.
In addition to that, we have this problem of the older people who are not allowed to be dropped off pay rolls. There is still a situation in which the actual work time of some people on the papers is only 14 hours a week. There is still what is known in the industry as the "bingo" night when they do not turn up at all; there is the "hallo and goodbye" night when there is virtually a half shift worked. An industry cannot be operated in this way.
Somebody said that only an industry as profitable as the newspaper industry could carry such enormous costs. But one thing is certain: on the old 19th century technology the newspaper industry cannot last for more than another five years; costs will outstrip the technology. Something has to be done. The Royal Commission has gone into it at great depth. What I 522 am now talking about is the future of the industry. Many noble Lords may have seen the television programme about the Daily Mirror. I, unfortunately, did not see it; but I do know about the new technology, and on present manning levels there would be a 50 to 60 per cent. overmanning rate. That is a very conservative figure. There is already installed in many of the newspapers machinery which is just not being used because unions will not allow it to be used. This is the problem of overmanning. But a realistic attitude has to be taken. There have to be concessions on both sides; people will have to be paid up out of the job if papers are to go out this way.
On the subject of what is happening to the papers at the moment it is very interesting to look at this week's UK Press Gazette. Under the ABC circulations for the national newspapers it has a banner headline which says "The year of the asterisk". It says that it is impossible to evaluate the past six months' figures. They are particularly relevant because that is the period since the Royal Commission report came out, so the latest figures are out now. These figures are hard to evaluate for the simple reason that more copies have been lost in this period than probably ever before. Putting all these other problems down, we are in a serious situation.
In terms of what has been happening, the circulation of the Daily Mail is up, as is that of the Sun and the Daily Mirror. That cliffhanger we have all been watching has not really been resolved in the papers, but I am told that to a degree it has been resolved and the Sun has gone marginally ahead of the Daily Mirror. The Daily Mirror has been doing a lot more about technology than any other paper. This is something on which I should like to go into detail.
Looking at the profitability of the situation, advertising is buoyant but the rates are still lagging behind inflation. Our rates are just cheaper than anywhere else in the world, certainly cheaper than in Europe and America. The rates are very low. Newsprint costs are fairly steady at the moment, but it is probable that newsprint prices will go up in the autumn. Advertising in the popular newspapers is up 18 per cent. and for the popular Sundays it is up 17 per cent. 523 But it is the industrial relations problems which are causing the trouble at the moment. I do not have the exact figure, but about 128 million copies were lost in this last period due to industrial relations stoppages.
The result of this in terms of advertising and revenue is that there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the Press as a media because of lost papers. They cannot be relied upon in a marketing programme. The Daily Mirror is important and is the lead as to what is going to happen. The price of their new technology has been enormous in terms of stoppages, in terms of trying to get agreement. Two years ago there were two major disputes with SOGAT and 100,000 copies were lost. The recent dispute with the journalists over technology cost 11 days' production on the Daily Mirror, Reveille and the two Sunday papers, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People. That cost the Daily Mirror £3 million profit, and the cost of the technology is also enormous. So the situation is dismal.
What is happening in the rest of Fleet Street? The Financial Times have put off their plan; News International are waiting to see, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph are thinking about it, and The Times has a certain amount of new technical equipment operating but not entirely satisfactorily, due to agreements. The big step is that next Tuesday, the Reveille comes out for the first time as a photoset publication. But the first issue, which should have come out this week, was lost because of dispute after agreement had been reached. There was an inter-union battle at the last minute. This is happening all the way through. This week we have lost an issue of the Daily Telegraph and the Yorkshire Post, and the Sunday Telegraph was lost. That was because of objections by the binders. The equipment was there, it was all agreed but the unions, just at the last minute, said, No. It is always that which costs the money.
What is to be done? One thing that it is absolutely certain is not to be done is to implement some of the recommendations put up in this terrifying document People and the Media. One would think that those recommendations were ludicrous 524 if it were not for the horrifying fact some members of the Government support it. To implement them would be the end of the freedom of the Press, the end of the newspapers and everything that we have been talking about. I hope that everybody thinks again and thinks very seriously about it.
I come finally—I will be brief—to something which worries me most, the closed shop in journalism. I see it as inevitable that a closed shop will lead to Press censorship by the union. The pressures that can be brought to bear in a closed shop are enormous. The harm that can be done to individuals can be enormous. Obviously, there will be a problem, otherwise we would not have had all the assurances about safeguards. I think it is generally accepted that there is a danger. In the past a boss could sack a man. The man could perhaps get another job. Now, if his card is withdrawn, he is condemned to be unemployable; and, frankly, the safeguards just do not make sense in terms of looking after somebody like that. Frankly, it is like putting a bullet into him.
Am I being over-alarmist about this? Perhaps some will say I am. But, coming back again to the Daily Mirror, already certain censorships have taken place. I am sure you are not surprised, my Lords, that I am not the most ardent fan of Mr. Clive Jenkins. He was going to write a regular column in the Daily Mirror. But the journalists vetoed that because he is not a professional journalist. I think that has to be looked at objectively—
§ Lord JACOBSON
My Lords, if I may intervene, Mr. Clive Jenkins' column, in fact, after some discussion with the chapel, did appear for quite a long time: I think a year.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, there has been a certain amount of dispute over this, as I think the noble Lord will find: at least, I was assured of that by editors in Fleet Street.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, there was a discussion with the chapel and it finished up that Mr. Clive Jenkins was able to write about anything which concerned trade union affairs; and as trade union affairs embrace the whole span of human 525 life, he had very wide freedom which he very much enjoyed, and was able to run the column for about a year, when I think that he and probably most of us around the Daily Mirror thought that perhaps the column had seen its best days.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, I am most grateful for that, and I am so glad it came out that it had "seen its best days". I think that is the note on which to leave this point. To conclude quickly, as regards the Press Charter, no European country has a Press Charter. The dangers of change in a legally constituted Press Charter can exist, because if Parliament can set it up, Parliament can tamper with it—and that is dangerous. Things are being done about the Press Council. The Press Council is fine, provided it is not allowed to get out of hand. Maybe I am being alarmist, but I do not think I am. The point is that some dangers do exist: that has been admitted. If they exist, it is too high a price to pay. The important point I would make is this: when this Party gets into power at the next Election we are going to do something about this. We will rectify the situation and ensure that we retrieve some of the freedoms that are in danger and that in fact, to a degree, have already been lost.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord JACOBSON
My Lords, perhaps I should explain that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, and I have changed places because he has an appointment in another place and will be speaking later. May I declare my interest: I am a member of the National Union of Journalists and was for a number of years a member of the Press Council and of its Complaints Committee. I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for having initiated this debate and for the very clear and fair way in which he led the debate. I agree with many of his conclusions, mainly about the practical and sensible approach which the Royal Commission has taken to the Press as a whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned the circumstances in which this Royal Commission was appointed; and they were rather unusual. Relations between the then Prime Minister and some sections of the Press had reached a very low point indeed. I happen to think that 526 some scepticism and mutual tension between politicians and the Press is not only inevitable but also healthy and desirable. After all, the Press and the politicians do very different jobs and it would be dangerous if they were too much in each others' pockets. Indeed, when I was engaged on the battlefield of political journalism, I often toyed with the idea of writing a thesis which would begin with this statement:Relations between politicians and the Press have deteriorated, are deteriorating, and should on no account be allowed to improve".However, in 1974, as the noble Lord said, things had got a little too sour altogether and, if nothing else, the Royal Commission has done well to calm the atmosphere in its report. It has dispelled some of the wilder accusations of extreme bias and hounding, while rapping the Press over the knuckles when it was deserved, as, for example over the "slush fund" story.
I think we would all agree with the terms of the Motion that a free, diverse, responsible and thriving Press is important. The difficulties arise when we ask what is meant by those words. Freedom, yes; but freedom from whom?—from the Government, from interference by proprietors, managements, trade unions? Diverse, yes; but in what sense?—in the anti-monopoly sense, in the political balance sense or in the sense of giving the public a wide choice? Thriving, yes; but how do we achieve that?
The Royal Commission's report has addressed itself to these questions. It provides some answers and, in my opinion, many of them are right. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, it has produced a practical report, a commonsense report. It is not a dramatic report because there are no dramatic solutions to the problem. Above all, the report fortifies what I regard as the cornerstone of Press freedom: that there must be a clear-cut separation between the Press and the Government. That is essential, for without that there will be no free Press. Once a Government begins to intervene in the functioning of the Press, however worthy the motives, we are on the beginnings of a slope. It is a hard truth to accept, but this means that there must be no Government subsidies either for an existing paper which is in difficulties or in order to launch a new paper to redress a 527 political imbalance. I believe those are the reasons which led the Royal Commission to reject the recommendations in the Labour Party's proposals called The People and the Media—
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to put one point? Would he not regard it as an interference if a Press Charter is laid down by a Government?
§ Lord JACOBSON
No, my Lords, if the Press Charter is accepted by both sides of the industry and by both Houses of Parliament, I would not regard that as Government intervention. I believe that the reasons why the Royal Commission has rejected the Labour Party proposals I have mentioned—proposals which were ratified by the National Executive of the Party—were based on the clear principle that there must be no Government subsidy. This report suggested that advertisement revenue should be redistributed between the better-off and the worse-off papers. One can hardly envisage a swifter way to damaging successful newspapers—and there are too few of them already—without helping the struggling ones, while at the same time introducing a measure of political intervention. The report says:We do not think that the Labour Party's scheme avoids the need for invidious decisions by Government or by a Government agency".I hope that when the Minister winds up he will reassure us that this particular duck is now dead.
What, then, can be done to achieve diversity and to prevent further concentration of newspapers? Some proposals are put forward in the minority report by Mr. Geoffrey Goodman and Mr. David Basnett. They suggest a National Printing Corporation, as a subsidiary of the National Enterprise Board. Its function would be to encourage new publications by helping to finance initial working capital on commercial terms and to offer other expert advice. The sole criterion suggested for refusing help, apart from legal and security grounds, should be lack of financial viability. Mr. Goodman is a friend and a former colleague of mine, and I have a very great respect both for him and for Mr. Basnett. I sympathise very much with their desire to encourage 528 new publications. I think it is lamentable, for example that only London, of all our major cities, has more than one evening newspaper—and even in London I understand that both papers are running at a loss. One of them was threatened very recently with amalgamation.
But I do not believe that the answer is to be found in this minority report. The authors admit that an initial injection of Government money would be necessary to start off the National Printing Corporation, so the objections against Government subsidy to which I have referred would apply here. Inevitably, there would be a political element in deciding which projected publication to assist and by how much. May I give an example? Let us suppose that the National Front approached this agency and was able to prove, as unhappily it might be able to prove, that a publication of theirs would be commercially viable. On what possible grounds could a National Printing Corporation either deny the National Front this assistance in launching, or assist them? The matter would become too political straight away.
There is another objection. If the sole criterion is to be commercial viability, then the would-be publisher should be able to get in the open market the money he needs to launch. He should not get it from Government funds, however well disguised in the form of an agency. There is one field, though, where the Government can help, which has been referred to by the mover of the Motion, and that is the field of monopolies. This would apply particularly to the provinces, and I hope that when my noble friend Lord Oram winds up he will be able to tell us that the Government are seriously considering the strengthening of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which was recommended in the Royal Commission's report.
The Motion refers to the desirability of a responsible Press. The report, assessing the results of the Royal Commission's excellent research, comes to the conclusion that, in general, the Press is seen by its readers as meeting their needs;People enjoy reading their newspapers, even though they criticise them".I suppose that this could be taken as rather a double-edged compliment, adding some credence to the criticism one so often 529 hears that the Press only gives the public what it wants, instead of teaching the public, somehow, to want something better.
There is something in this criticism. Newspapers must reflect the society that we live in, warts and all, and all newspapers—and this goes for The Times as well as for the Daily Mirror and the Sun—must entertain as well as inform their readers; otherwise, they will go out of business. I find something slightly arrogant about the view that articles about bridge, backgammon or bird-watching are perfectly acceptable, but that articles about pop stars or another form of bird-watching are not so acceptable. The interests, tastes and hobbies of the millions are not necessarily less important than those of the few. The most important and vital point is that the public should have a wide choice.
I believe that editors accept that their first responsibility is to their readers, and that this includes responsibility to inform as well as to entertain. The mix is different in different papers, but the mix is there. But editors also have to accept a measure of responsibility to their employers; that is, a responsibility to produce a newspaper which is acceptable to that section of the public at which it is aimed, so that the newspaper will attract sales and, thereby, advertisements. In my experience, there is, therefore, a broad understanding about the kind of paper that it is to be, rather than a hard and fast agreement on detailed policy.
No proprietor or management would appoint an editor who was totally out of sympathy with this broad outline. Beyond this, the relations between editors and managements are a very complex matter and they vary enormously between one paper and another. Some editors enjoy freedom on policy and contents; some proprietors and managements exercise a great deal of influence. If it is thought undesirable that proprietors and managements should do this, the only answer I can see is not any form of legislation or even another Royal Commission, but strong editors w ho will stand up for editorial independence.
There is, however, an important aspect, now that so many newspapers have become parts of very big groups and conglomerates, rather than being under 530 the control of a single publisher or a group concerned only with publishing. Some newspapers and periodicals are owned by groups with very widespread interests in chemicals, shipping, property, paper, television, fine arts and Heaven knows what else. I believe it is very important that the right of editors to criticise a paper's own group, or other products of that corporate organisation, should be safeguarded and in this area, the Royal Commission's report has some useful proposals which your Lordships will find on page 154. I suggest that such safeguards are best confirmed in writing as an agreed part of the paper's internal editorial policy.
May I now turn to what I believe to be the centrepiece of the Commission's positive recommendations; those relating to the Press Council. I am glad to see that the report recommends some extensions of the Council's activities, and that it has refrained from suggesting punitive powers such as the right to impose fines on errant publications. The great value of the Press Council is that it is not an arm of the State or of the law, but a voluntary body to which any individual who feels aggrieved by a newspaper can resort, without any cost to himself beyond a postage stamp. His or her complaint will be heard by experienced and sympathetic people in an informal setting and, if it is upheld, the offending paper is expected to publish the Council's findings, and does in fact publish it.
It is sometimes said that editors do not mind being criticised by the Press Council. My experience as an editor showed me that is not so. No editor likes to publish an adverse finding by the Council in his paper. It damages his own professional reputation and it lowers public esteem for his paper. Nor, of course, does he relish seeing the criticisms published in rival newspapers. It is very rare indeed—I can think of only one instance involving the somewhat eccentric editor of a small weekly—for an editor to refuse to publish an adverse finding in his paper In that case, the adverse finding was published in a rival paper in the same area and, when the offending editor refused to publish it, the Press Council then went on to censure him again and the second censorship was published in the rival paper. So that he had two strokes of the cane, instead of one.
531 I believe that editorial standards have improved considerably over the years as a result of the Press Council's activities, particularly over cheque book journalism and intrusion into privacy. But I must say this, and I say it with regret. About intrusion, there has been some backsliding recently, particularly in the gossip columns of the popular Press. I hope that editors will put a stop to it, because I am certain that, if they do not, the end result will be an irresistible public and political demand for a law against intrusion into privacy, which could gravely hamper serious and worthwhile investigation and exposure. Such a law was not called for by the Younger Committee on Privacy, it is not called for by the Royal Commission's present report and it has not been called for by the Press Council, but I think that it will come unless this tendency is reversed.
The Press Council has already accepted the recommendation that, counting the chairman, there should be a majority of lay members on the full Council. Of course, for some years there has been equality of membership between the professional and the lay members on the Complaints Committee, although the full Council had a majority of Press members. The change should enhance public confidence in the impartiality of the Council, although I must say that during my years on the Complaints Committee I cannot recall a single occasion on which the Committee was split on a complaint as between lay members and professional members—not one. Indeed, I think that the general tendency was for Press members of the Complaints Committee to be rather harsher towards the newspapers complained of, perhaps because we knew more about the tricks of the trade.
The report contains a number of other recommendations designed to strengthen the Press Council. The Press Council has accepted some and rejected others, but if only some are accepted the Council's resources will have to be strengthened. It will need to have more money. The Council has a small, hard-working and devoted staff who are already, I am told, dealing with about 800 complaints a year and they are very fully stretched. I believe that various sections of the industry should support them more adequately. 532 After all the Council is the bulwark of the Press against Government regulations.
I have spoken at considerable length and I do not wish to take up more time. I had very much wanted to take up the issue of the closed shop, but perhaps other speakers will do so. May I say how delighted I am that my noble friend Lord Hunt is speaking. I read with great interest his chapter on recruitment and training; there were some extremely valuable suggestions on which I hope he will expound.
As an old practitioner I wanted to say something about sensationalism, but I shall leave that for the moment. I am sure the House will listen with interest to my noble friend when he winds up. We have mentioned the Monopolies Commission aspect. I hope he will have something to say about the recommendations of the report that the Government should make up their mind, "with all possible speed", about the reports of the committees on privacy, defamation and contempt of court, which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. At present they are all gathering dust on shelves at Whitehall. Some members of the Committee have recommended that there should be immediate enquiry into the desirability of introducing a Freedom of Information Act. This seems to me to be an excellent suggestion. It is reinforced in a publication called An Official Information Act, produced by the Outer Circle Policy Unit which is an independent research organisation headed by Mr. Mark Bonham-Carter. I hope my noble friend has seen a copy of this stimulating pamphlet; if not, I will gladly lend him mine.
It is 10 years since the Fulton Committee underlined the excessive secrecy of Government in Britain, and nothing has been done. We are falling further behind the United States and the Scandinavian countries in this respect. If the Government really wish to sustain a responsible Press and informed journalism, the best thing they can do is at last to honour the pledge made by this Administration and by other Administrations and take some positive steps towards a more open government.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble 533 Lord sits down, may I say that I was very impressed with his speech. As a former editor, could he tell me his opinion as to how far an editor should go in trying to improve the standard of his readers, say, in upgrading them if not actually uplifting them? It must be very difficult for an editor when he sees that by publishing filth—or perhaps that is not the right word—he can get more readers. On the other hand, by so doing he is rather downgrading his public. I can remember a journalist telling me a long time ago—I think he worked on the Daily Mirror—that they had an experiment when they cut out some semi-nude pictures. In those days I think they were not allowed to have completely nude pictures—anyway I think semi-nude are more interesting, though that is a point of view. He told me that, when they tried this experiment, in two or three weeks circulation dropped by about 700,000, so they had to put all the nude pictures back. Would the noble Lord tell me what he thinks is an editor's responsibility regarding this? Ought he to put back the pictures or try to upgrade his readers? Should he put them back?
§ Lord JACOBSON
My Lords, I think all editors try to improve their papers. They try to improve them up to the point where they lose sales by going too far. You can only move slowly. I think all papers have experienced this. If you go too far in one direction, you lose sales and you find you have to back track in another direction. It has to be done rather slowly and very skilfully.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord HARTWELL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has rightly paid tribute to the tremendous industry of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor. I have no doubt it is out of order but I should like to go further. Although he has not yet been able to take his seat he has got as far as the Bar and I am sure we all welcome him. I should also like to add to his name the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the distinguished economist, Mr. Roger Chorley. Between the three of them they have done practically all the work on this Royal Commission, working for so many months, if not years, despite their own busy private lives. I had more dealings with the noble Lord, 534 Lord McGregor, than with his two colleagues but I should like to say that all of them treated their potential victims with the utmost courtesy, patience and an apparent absence of preconceived convictions.
I speak with some emotion on this subject because I have been on the receiving end of no less than three Royal Commissions. I should like to say that I think this one has been the most thorough, except in one particular respect which I shall come to later. Noble Lords have already indicated various reasons why they think this Royal Commission was appointed. On the whole they were right. In addition to the slag-heaps, there was considerable Back-Bench opinion in another place that the Press was biased in its reporting of the first 1974 General Election. There must have been some truth in that because the Commission was appointed by Mr. Roy Jenkins, who at the time laws Home Secretary. As Mr. Jenkins had not long previously closed down the Royal Commission on Prisons on the grounds that he did not favour, "gifted amateurs painting a broad canvas, but preferred an expert committee dealing with specific areas of concern", clearly he was not a man who would lightly have appointed a Royal Commission and given it all this work to do.
It is not the fault of the Royal Commission when they do paint broad convasses, if that is their remit, but I understand now why so many of their reports, after great expectations, are pigeon-holed. Most of the members of Royal Commissions can meet only infrequently, therefore they take a long time to report while the world moves on. They are chosen because they are independent of the field of their survey and they are required to pontificate on every aspect of a specialist endeavour on which those concerned have spent the whole of their working lives.
The fundamental question in Fleet Street now is how we are all going to survive. The regional evening Press, through the sheer force of economics, has settled into monopoly only marginally threatened by local radio. In Fleet Street there is still a multiplicity of titles, enough for every taste. For the moment I think no title is in immediate danger but, unlike Royal Commissions, time moves on.
535 Which brings me to the middle phase of the Commission's task. When the Commission was yet young, there was a sharp fall in advertising and a sharp increase in the price of newsprint. The unions in particular felt that there was a danger of several titles disappearing. The Commission was therefore asked to produce a crash interim report. It recommended two-year loans, at favourable rates of interest, to pay for the new technology. However, the principles according to which the new technology should be introduced, agreed at top level after many months, were turned down by ballot on the shop floor
It is not for me, as an interested party, in the privilege of this House to allocate blame, if there is blame. But the fact of life now is that each publishing house has to go its own way, and that is what each of us, in our own way, is trying to do. But we have not much time. The present advertising boom will not last for ever, and the benefit of the risen pound, even if it stays up, may be whittled down when present newsprint contracts expire. Even now, there are not a few titles losing money. Even now, the everyday situation in Fleet Street is worse than it has ever been. There is hardly a day when some title or other does not lose part of its contracted print.
The Commission made a valiant effort to deal with this fundamental problem and spent many months seeking a solution. But what was a starter 18 months ago has now been scratched. The admirable suggestions for centralised negotiation at the top, and for intra-union negotiation in-house, which, incidentally, were also recommended by the Shawcross Commission, have already failed twice since the war. I do not think that they can be revived again in the present climate. So, alas! that part of the Commission's report must be put in the pigeon hole.
According to my rough count, the Commission made 55 recommendations. I am not going to discuss them in detail. I do not really need to do so. The chairman, last week, summed up the whole report in an off-the-cuff speech which was reported, but not in this respect, with a crispness which any journalist would tip his hat to. He said: 536We were asked to recommend a whole series of interventions with the Press. The Labour Party invited us to make recommendations for Intervention in the economics of the Press—to subsidise existing newspapers, to set up a national printing corporation, to provide means by which new newspapers could be floated.We were invited to recommend intervention in the professional affairs of the Press—to establish a statutory Press Council, and to equip it with legal sanctions. We were invited to suggest ways of redressing the political imbalance, and there were complaints of incompetent, or distorted, reports of the affairs of the TUC and the CBI. We were invited to recommend intervention in matters of industrial relations—to ensure that statutory sanctions should exist in order to secure the freedom of the Press in a closed shop situation.The proposals had come from many individuals and bodies. In the end we were so out of step with the spirit of the age that we recommended almost no intervention whatsoever. We were, by choice, non-interventionist".I hope that there will not be another Royal Commission on the Press in my lifetime but, if there is, I will ride pillion to Lord McGregor at any time. So I come to the question of the Press Charter and the closed shop. However, I do not propose to discuss it in detail because I think discussion ought to wait until the Minister has submitted to both Houses whatever consensus he has been able to arrive at—none, I hope.
The Commission's solution to this problem is tremendously subtle. It attempts to concede a closed shop while at the same time leaving the door ajar. The Commission proposes six principles, of which the very first one reads:Freedom of a journalist to act, write and speak in accordance with conscience, without being inhibited by the threat of expulsion or other disciplinary action by his union or his employer".Anybody who can write that kind of thing has no idea of what newspapers are about. Half of the journalists do not write any virgin copy. Those who do, apart from the avowed opinion makers, are, for a large part, under the surveillance of their department head, trying to find out what is going on and trying to get it right, even when they are writing about politics. They are not like committed poets, desperate to get their deathless verse into print without amendment. Even the Morning Star, an unblushing propaganda sheet, is biased not so much in its reporting as in its selection of news. In theory, the Commission's solution would enable earnest seekers after truth to turn a blind eye to what the NUJ editorial code might proscribe from year 537 to year. On the other hand, what of the editor? Has the Commission never heard of C. Gordon Tether?
I do not wish to sound patronising, but this is a very complicated matter and the preferred solution, in my view, is simpliciste. The Commission cannot be blamed. In the speech from which I have already quoted the Chairman said:On the issue of the closed shop, we did not consult because timing was against us".Moreover, I do not think that the Commission appreciated what a many-tiered organisation a newspaper is. On our newspapers, for instance, we have some 370 journalists and, though the editor is the one who goes to gaol, he does not and cannot attempt to control the work of them all. There are also managing editors, City editors, women's editors, sports editors, night editors, et al. The structure of a newspaper is not like a single volcano. There are many side cones and they are continually making smoke, although they are not nowadays so sulphurous as they used to be. That, incidentally, is one of the many reasons why the Commission's proposal that editors should be elected is, in my view, mistaken. I do not think that they consulted on that question, either.
In these random remarks, I may have seemed to be hostile to the report. It is not so. On the whole, I think they have given the Press a clean bill of health, except, of course, for viability. And if I read the chairman aright, his 56th recommendation would have been that there should not be another Royal Commission for a very long time. Above all, I think he has demonstrated that newspapers are only peripherally about politics. As I said earlier, for the most part they deal with finding out what is going on and getting it right. News, not good news or bad news but just news is what people buy newspapers for, and that is the reason why I am speaking from these Benches. I hope that politicians will bear that in mind when they eternally analyse the Press. Let them call newspapers "news papers" and it will clear their minds wonderfully.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I must declare a rather fragile interest. I am a pensioner of the company which owns the 538 Daily Mirror and I am also a member of the National Union of Journalists. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, did not feel intimidated when he drew both my noble friend and myself. He must realise that he is facing the journalistic equivalent of the Pontypool front row and that only the two props came into action and the hooker did not; but we shall be having the hooker later on.
There was one moment in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, when I hoped that he was going to face up to things. He asked in a Leninist kind of way, "What is to be done?". And I thought that at last the answer to the great problems of Fleet Street was coming. But I am afraid all he said was what was not to be done—I could not agree with him more—as contained in a pamphlet produced on behalf of some people in my Party. It is not Party policy and I hope it will not become Party policy. But he also said at the beginning of his speech something about wishing that something had teeth, and I wondered who was going to be bitten with those teeth and how he expected the bitten persons to react.
I am not surprised, although I am a little disturbed, at the small number of people taking part in this debate. In some recent debates where television has been coupled with written journalism most of the speakers have dealt with television, so there is a loss of interest in the Press. Perhaps people have come to the conclusion that the virtues of the written Press are universally known by this time and that its faults are perhaps irredeemable and the discussion for them is over. But it is a sad fact that both the Annan Report and the report we are dealing with today have not had the attention in the serious Press—in the quarterlies and the reviews—which I think they deserve.
This Royal Commission on the Press has been the third in 30 years and I hope that when Lord McGregor comes to this House the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and he may sponsor a debate on Royal Commissions, on what is their function in the world today; what tools are they equipped with, in the light of modern sociology and so forth; what is the place of research in them; to whom are they reporting, and what should be published. I think there is a general belief now that it is not right 539 for Royal Commissions merely to express opinions about the opinions of witnesses. Yet to probe deeper takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. The Royal Commission on the Press cost £750,000. It may be worth every penny, but even then much of the evidence, on grounds of expense, could not be published and it had to be deposited in a number of university libraries. So I should like to hear a debate in this House leading up, perhaps, to the appointment of a Select Committee on the question of Royal Commissions.
Turning to the subject of today's debate, it may be a debate with many facets but I think what we are having is not so much a debate, because the subject has so many sides that what we are having is more in the nature of a symposium, as so often happens in this House. When we speak about the freedom of the Press in Britain we usually mean freedom from the excessive restraints of law and of the secrecy of public bodies. We have pretty tough laws of libel and of contempt of the courts. We also have laws which are not much exercised today, concerning blasphemy and sedition; we have the Official Secrets Act, and it is also possible to fall into contempt of Parliament. It is against these outer restraints that the Press has struggled. How can we investigate properly? How can we reveal to the citizens what they need to know in a society which is so instinctively secretive, and when the secrets of public bodies and public people are protected by a law that is as stern in its application as it is in its provisions? For example, the law of libel in the United States of America is very similar to ours, but it is not applied in the same way as ours. It is almost impossible for a public man to bring an action against a newspaper.
All this concerns the restraint that a newspaper has in facing the outside world; but now we are faced with a new problem, that of freedom inside a newspaper office—what the Germans, who have debated this question quite a lot, call the innere Freiheit. This is a subject to which we in British journalism bring no traditional philosophy. It used to be accepted that the owner of a newspaper should decide what kind of paper he wanted to run, and should either run it himself or should get an editor to run it for him in a prescribed style. This is more or less the rule 540 now, but it is under challenge. The age of the great political proprietor who owned one or more national newspapers seems to be over. The Beaverbrooks and the Northcliffes have gone, and even the newspaper dynasties are dying out or are ebbing away. The Astors and the Scotts are no longer in the forefront of newspapers as they once were. What we have very often are managers, and sometimes, as my noble friend has said, behind them are great companies for whom newspapers are an investment rather than something which they have as a personal commitment.
In the course of this change the exercise of power has tended to pass to editors, which is a very good thing. Of course, on some of the great newspapers the editor has always enjoyed freedom within the traditions of his paper. In recent years the tendency on newspapers like that has been to give wider freedom to columnists to express their personal views, and it has become the custom for editors to do something which they did not do even in my day on this kind of paper; namely, to discuss policy with their immediate subordinates. I do not mean that editors would not ask me what I thought about something; I believe almost every editor for whom I have worked has asked me what I think about certain aspects of a political situation; but asking about policies is asking, what should this newspaper say about this subject? That was not done, but it is now a tendency and there is a healthy widening of that inner freedom.
But there are dangers, which do not arise specifically out of the closed shop. That is just a contributory factor. They arise from the elevation of political extremists to influential positions in the union of which I have been proud to be a member for 50 years. However, these people have not been elected to office for their political views. Most journalists are not extremists: many are a-political, many are sceptical about the political process and many of them are engaged, as the noble Lord, Lord Hartwell, said, not on political tasks but on sport or something like that. They are no more interested in politics than is the man in the street.
A certain number of years ago journalists found that their decency, their modesty, their good will, their willingness to work unsocial hours, willingness to come in on their days off, willingness to forfeit holidays 541 when suddenly a story broke, did not bring them any benefit. They had a spirit which was almost like the spirit of showbusiness, that the show must go on, the paper must come out, and the story must be covered. But all this did not bring them the kind of material rewards that it might have done. They found that their co-trade unionists on the other floors in the mechanical units were forging ahead with their closed shops, with their militancy, with their solidarity and, very often, with their ruthless methods. The only thing for journalists to do was to mount campaigns of equal militancy. It was in those campaigns that the new men were thrown up, regardless of their politics but because they were militant industrial trade unionists. The ground was recovered in Fleet Street. I do not think it was ever recovered in the provinces. Now the Fleet Street journalists feel they are being left behind as the managements negotiate with mechanical staffs on the pay that they must have as the technological revolution proceeds. That is the cause of the present trouble on the editorial floor.
Some of these militant leaders are political militants too, and some have said that they really would like to start changing society, having a revolution in society, from wherever they are working, whether they are working in newspaper offices or working in schools or universities. There are some editors who dread that if these leaders achieve a closed shop the freedom of the editor himself will be threatened. The chapel may tell him what to do. They may tell him whom he may employ, they may tell him what contributions he may select, and perhaps they will also want a say in policy. But all these dangers are potential ones; they are not manifesting themselves yet. There is a clear danger, but there is not a present danger. It is one of which we have to be very conscious and aware.
Not all moderate journalists are yet impressed by this danger. They cannot see why it is so damaging to the freedom of the Press if the chapel calls the tune on political affairs rather than the proprietor. They suspect indeed that owners want to avoid the closed shop because they want a reserve of journalists who are not members of the NUJ, in order to keep the paper going and to keep the revenue flowing during an industrial dispute. This would be very difficult to do on a 542 national newspaper, which requires quite a lot of people to get it out; but it is not impossible to do on a small newspaper. We have seen editors bravely bringing out a paper all on their own. But the journalists suspect that what the proprietors are really concerned about is bringing the paper out and maintaining revenue, commercial motives, and that they are hiding behind this beautiful banner of freedom. The journalists find it difficult to regard newspaper publishers as freedom fighters, except when fighting for their own freedom. In this I think they are unjust and not in accord with the facts. But it is an attitude that exists among rank-and-file journalists, and among other journalists. The role of the moderate in the NUJ today is a very difficult one.
Yet I believe that the Charter, if we can achieve one, provides a way out. I think some very sensible suggestions were made by the Royal Commission. I do not see any other way except the Charter. I do not see how you can legislate to prevent journalists being the one group of people in newspaper offices who are not allowed to have a closed shop. I think that if you legislated like that you would not achieve your end; this is a law which could not easily be carried out. I think you would find yourself involved in a very great deal of dispute. The Royal Commission on the Press suggest that editors should be free to join or not to join the union, and free to decide whether or not they should take part in industrial action. A journalist should be free—and here I think perhaps Lord Hartwell was not aware of the danger—to write in accordance with his conscience without the threat of disciplinary action by his employer or the union. It is unlikely that he would be threatened by his employer.
However, there have been cases in remote parts of the country where there has been a young inexperienced staff, no senior journalist, and they hive tried to intimidate other young people into reporting things in the way in which the prevailing political mood of that particular chapel wanted. There have been stories about this. How true they are nobody knows, but everybody can tell a story of that kind. I should imagine the safeguard was put in for that reason rather than the fear that journalists would be fired for refusing to write something or for 543 trying to write something. In any case, it does not mean that a journalist has the right to write what he likes, how he likes, in his newspaper, because in the Charter is the provision that the editor has the right to reject or to accept any contribution. The editor has the last word on that.
As I say, I think the suggestions of the Royal Commission are full of commonsense. I hope that the Minister who is going to be responsible for producing a charter takes note of them. Professor Finer, the brother of the unfortunate first chairman of this Commission, asked in an article "What has the Ministry of Employment got to do with Areopagitica?". The answer is that by pure accident of this Act it has something to do with freedom. I am hoping that eventually a Charter can be brought before these Houses which will make good sense and will provide the best safeguard that can be provided against the dangers that now appear to threaten.
§ 6.57 p.m.
My Lords, I can say with great warmth how grateful I am to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wigoder, for putting down this Motion. The report was published last July and seven months have passed, and I must admit that I was getting just a little anxious lest the enthusiasm in Parliament, in either House, for the Commission and for the report they produced which was perhaps never very great, might have waned to vanishing point.
It is very appropriate, as I see it, that the Motion should have come from the Liberal Benches and the Liberal Party, which at present occupies a central position in the political spectrum. I should like to say that the Liberal Party, which I think shared the lack of enthusiasm for the setting up of the Commission in the particular circumstances, nevertheless gave us valuable evidence and every co-operation. I would like to extend that appreciation on behalf of all my colleagues—I am sure I am speaking for my collegaues—to everyone else who, little as they liked our being put into business, gave us every help and cooperation. I have only one regret about this and that is that the Conservative 544 Party chose not to provide evidence for the Commission. I think that was a great pity.
I have only one other regret of quite a different nature, and it has been expressed by others. It is that the chairman of the Royal Commission, Professor Oliver McGregor—Lord McGregor as he now is—should not have been able to take his seat in your Lordships' House in time to make his maiden speech today. It is he, not I, who should be saying whatever needs to be said, not on behalf of the Royal Commission but perhaps from the Royal Commission's point of view, in clarification of other points made by your Lordships. As one who sat at his feet for nearly three years during our work, I would like to pay tribute to the chairman of the Commission for a masterly performance in steering us through a most complex and comprehensive piece of work.
Although it may be thought to be a somewhat academic point now, I think it may have a bearing on the future when I recall, as others have, the doubts, the questioning as to whether the Commission was necessary and whether our report has been justified in the event, justified in terms of the time it took and in terms of the expense incurred in public money. I venture to believe that the answer to the first part of that question is, yes, and as to whether the expense was justified, I suggest that the only area of doubt in the event is that of our interim report.
If, even at this late hour, Fleet Street broadly follows our recommendations, and the recommendations in the ACAS Report which we commissioned, in resolving its problems, then the considerable proportion of the total cost which was incurred in acceding to Fleet Street's own urgent plea to the Royal Commission to undertake that job will have been justified. I was very disappointed to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hartwell, that he feels that it is a dead letter or, if those were not his exact words, that it should be pigeon-holed. The truth of the matter is that in those recommendations lies the solution to Fleet Street's problem. If, on the other hand, Fleet Street continues to insist on pursuing a disaster course, then undoubtedly both our time and public money will have been wasted.
545 We came up with a number of negatives—to which reference has been made and upon which I shall not dwell—to the contention that the Press is unduly biased against the political Left and to various proposals put to us for preserving existing titles and for increasing diversity. I suggest that none of those negatives invalidates the general proposition that the Press should be subject to independent and searching scrutiny from time to time. The few editors and leader writers who most impressed me in their reviews on the Commission's report were those who were not condescending—they may have been critical but they were not condemnatory: writers like Peter Strafford in The Times and whoever wrote the remarkable leader article in the Daily Express, who, exceptionally, displayed humility and accepted the need for the Press to receive criticism of its work.
It has been pointed out that this is the third Royal Commission in a quarter of a century. I am expressing an entirely personal view, contrary to those that have been expressed, when I say that it may show that intervals of about 12 years or so between such scrutinies are about right. The noble Lord, Lord Hartwell, who made a most felicitous and generous reference to myself for which I thank him, expressed the fervent hope that there would be no further Royal Commission in his lifetime. I should like to express the equally fervent hope that there will be—I hope that he will survive at least another 12 years—at least one, if not two more Royal Commissions in his lifetime. An industry so uniquely endowed with so high a degree of the public interest must be publicly scrutinised from time to time.
On the main contention that the Press is seriously biased against the Left or that there is a serious imbalance—they are not quite the same thing—against the Left, by a large majority we came up with a negative. Certainly there is some degree of imbalance or bias, but, despite our best efforts and our research, we did not uncover convincing contemporaneous evidence to go further than that. It would indeed be surprising—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, made this point much better than I—if our Press, which sets out to reflect, by and large, what its readership thinks and wants in order to sell its wares in the market place, 546 should not, in the round, project the preferences of the great majority of people. Among those preferences, we contend, is the fact that people in a great majority desire to live, in political terms, under a Parliamentary democracy—no doubt an improved one—and, in economic terms, in a mixed economy, that is, with a considerable proportion of private enterprise. In reflecting this the Press is an accurate mirror of public opinion.
We were doubtful whether a new national daily paper, as distinct from the many others in the periodical range and in the "alternative press", would, once launched, be able to keep going as an economic proposition. How ever, we were very sympathetic to that idea. We recognised that there was a gap and we hoped that our report might encourage the TUC and the Labour Party to bring into being another national daily paper in the "quality" range for those who could be attracted to buy it, which would adopt a more left-of-centre stance than has existed since the demise of the News Chronicle and the old Daily Herald.
I should like to sound one cautionary note about the reflection of the public view. One of the surveys showed quite clearly that the public, by and large, is well satisfied with the papers it reads. I think that that needs qualifying—the noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, again has made an important qualification—by another of our surveys which confirmed that very many people buy newspapers not to read serious news on which informed judgments can be made in connection with the democratic process, but for some other particular and perfectly valid reason. It may be merely to do the crossword puzzle; it may be to read the gossip column; it may be—and it very often is—simply to go straight to the sports pages; or it may be, as we have found, simply to consult the guide to their preferred broadcasting programmes.
The question of public taste and the problem of creating a greater interest in serious news and comment, I am thankful to say, is outside the scope of this debate. However, I should like to emphasise that we, too, came to the conclusion that, by and large, the Press as a whole does a pretty good job. I am sure that your Lordships will have read what the chairman of the Commission said in answer to 547 a question put to him at a Press conference. He was asked: "We don't come out of it too badly, do we?" Professor McGregor replied: "That is an entirely accurate statement". However, public satisfaction does not necessarily imply that the Press handling of serious news and comment, the Press judgments of taste and matters of privacy and the redress of grievances and complaints, are not capable of improvement.
That brings me to the second area of our report upon which I think all noble Lords have made some comment, and about which I shall not say a great deal, namely, the Press Council. I think that it is very important that everyone should remember that the Council is a self-regulating system set up by the Press themselves. We felt very strongly indeed that the Press should continue to exercise its own restraints and methods for maintaining its high standdards, leaving editors free to regulate their conduct in the light of the Press Council's findings and, of course, subject to the law.
We came to the conclusion that the Council, on the whole, has done and is doing a good job, but our evidence did not show that it commands as much confidence as it should—that it is not as credible as it needs to be to do its job effectively in all important areas of our society. That is partly a matter of public relations and improvement of the Press Council's image. That is mainly why we believed that there should be parity as between Press representatives and independent members. I was delighted to learn of the Council's decision to adopt that recommendation, entirely fortuitously just in time for this debate. I am particularly sorry—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who first mentioned this—that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, was unable—and quite genuinely I know that he was unable—to attend this debate so that I could pay a personal tribute to his able and impartial chairmanship of the Press Council.
I was delighted, and I know that my colleagues will be delighted too, to read the recent Press announcement of the Council's intention to introduce a conciliation procedure and to appoint a member of the staff who might be called—I do not think that he will be—a "trouble-shooter", who will endeavour, in the first instance, 548 to settle complaints informally by achieving mutual agreement between the parties concerned. The appointment of Mr. Ken Morgan, the former General Secretary of the NUJ, is an inspired choice.
All our recommendations in the area of the Press Council were directed towards helping the public in general to feel that the Press, which claims to be so assiduous a watchdog on their behalf, demonstrates its readiness to defend individuals against that same watchdog when occasionally it turns and bites them. The Press should give the Council the support—and this means the financial support—which it needs to do its job properly. That is the touchstone of the importance that the Press in general attaches to the work of the Press Council.
I should like to refer briefly to the important words in the Motion:a free, dive[...]e.… and thriving press".I shall not comment on those various proposals that were put to us to promote the greater health and diversity of the Press by subsidies; they all seemed to us to put at risk the priority importance of ensuring its freedom. But I should like to take up again that keynote in the Motion that the Press should be free. Again, I am covering ground that I know has already been covered; therefore, I shall say only a little about the closed shop. I am sure that we, as a Commission, were quite right—although we were under pressure to intervene or to say something—not to get drawn into the debate during the passage of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, though I did feel a little frustrated as I sat in your Lordships' House and listened to that debate.
In the minds of nearly all of us there was no question that there is now in regard to the application of the closed shop in journalism—now as distinct from the period up to about 1970 and after Lord Donovan reported on the trade unions—a real threat to Press freedom. Perhaps we were too optimistic, as some people maintain, in hoping that safeguards without sanctions would work. Maybe they will not; but we were absolutely convinced that they must be given every chance. The line we took was pragmatic: they will be tried out in any case; the Charter is enshrined in law and they must be given a chance. In this matter of chance due 549 credit really should be given to the great majority of journalists for their determination that the Press should not be subject to the dictates of their unions any more than of their employers, as to what they write about, the way in which they write it and whether they can write at all.
I am bound to say to your Lordships that we were disappointed that there were so few references to our recommendations on the area of the closed shop and that those references that were made were mainly hostile. There have been some perfectly valid hostile comments on those recommendations this evening. They were rather recommendations of principle than definitive ones. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale—I find it very difficult not to call him my noble friend—has referred to that interesting document by the Newspaper Society. It may be that the safeguards that we have advocated are not the "practical guidance" that the Newspaper Society would have liked from us. But I do not doubt that the guidance which the Secretary of State produces will have taken our views and those of the Newspaper Society carefully into account.
Whatever the terms of the Charter, I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State adopts our recommendation that an independent committee should monitor its functioning during a three-year period. I do not think it is necessarily right that it should be the Press Council; it could be some other body. It must be a separate body and, should the Charter fail, that body, whatever it is, should be empowered to recommend legislation to make the necessary safeguards effective. If that were to come to pass, it would be a very sad day for us all.
I should like to draw attention, as have other noble Lords, quite briefly to our chapter about the selection and training of journalists. I state the obvious when I say that, as long as it is agreed that the standards of performance of the Press are capable of improvement, this aspect of the matter is quite crucial. I found it very disappointing that Press comment on this part of the report practically ignored what we had to say. I was going to draw attention to the only leader article, to my knowledge, which made reference to it, which was an article in the Daily Telegraph, which was laced with heavy sarcasm. But I shall not go any further because the 550 noble Lord, Lord Hartwell, has been so kind to me.
The deafening silence of the Press on this subject could be identified—it could be, but I hope it is not correct so to identify it—as the measure of the interest or the lack of interest in a systematic and on-going training and education in editorial departments, at any rate in the national Press. In my researches into that area of our studies I found an element of parochialism, a lack of vision of a wider public interest beyond the publishing firm, that training should be common ground for all the communications media.
Happily, the National Council for the Training of Journalists and others who are closely and directly involved in training have taken a very positive view of our proposals. I venture to hope that, on reflection, the newspaper industry will give them the effective support that the Council needs and deserves. I am surprised that so great an industry, so great an institution as our British Press, on whose words statesmen and housewives alike depend for their daily needs, should not, like other institutions and industries, have a study centre—a staff college for the study of their profession.
My last word is to express my own appreciation of the Press. We do not make someone or something better by harping on its weaknesses and faults. Undoubtedly, we have the best Press in the world. But perhaps this comes better from an outsider, even if it is gratuitous; it may come more gracefully and even more convincingly than when such a claim is made by the Press on behalf of itself.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for the opportunity he has given us to debate this matter. I am glad that find myself, as is frequently the situation, following the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As all of us are now in a confessional state, declaring our interests, I should point out that the NUJ is probably the strongest union in the House of Lords, certainly as is represented by the Lords in attendance here tonight. I, too, am a member of the NUJ and have been for over 50 years. 551 Like all my collegaues who have taken part, I started as a cub reporter, came up through the apprenticeship system, if I can call it that, and unashamedly believed that we were better educated in Fleet Street than we would have been in the august university in which I eventually became a professor.
I particularly want to stress the fact that in so far as my life's experience goes, we are a responsible profession. As time goes on, I get distressed to find that what I joined, which was a profession, is now treated quite offhandedly as an industry and is no longer regarded, like the law or other professions, as being composed of people who are, in fact, by their own behaviour, writing and scruples, establishing, creating and safeguarding the principles of journalism—and I stress the latter.
There has been a lot of nonsense talked about this. I really am serious about this. With all deference to everybody else concerned, may I say that I come from inside the profession and I will say what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said very nicely from outside the profession: we have certainly got the best Press in the world, without exception. Our criticisms, wherever they come from, are really a family argument, or sometimes an argument with difficult neighbours in the shape of politicians. But in fact we have a very good professional newspaper system in this country.
As was pointed out, this is not a debate; this is a symposium. Most of us are drawing on our own experience, as we usually do in these debates. It is one of these rare debating chambers in which nobody ever speaks from the book, but almost invariably from direct experience. We are talking here about something which manifestly concerns the democratic system of this country, and all the values that we regard as sacred. But I come back to the point: in the terms of this Motion, we talk about the freedom of the Press.
All my experience has been a qualified freedom. Whether I was serving D. C. Thompson in Dundee when he was driving Churchill out of the constituency in the 1922 Election—I go back that far—or whether it was on the various papers on which I have served, I experienced at least 552 some degree of pressure from advertisers; not necessarily from the editor but indirectly. This is something people have to accept. I rarely got instructions from a proprietor. When I gave evidence to the first of the Royal Commissions on the Press in 1947 one point I made strongly was that I did not agree with those who kept on blaming the proprietors, or even the advertisers, or the politicians, or anybody else, for pressuring the journalists. The people who had to stand up were the journalists themselves. In my own case I resigned twice from newspapers. I had chosen to in one case in an invasion of privacy, and in the other case a breach of confidence.
It is true of those days—perhaps nowadays I would be looking rather hopelessly for a job—that there was no such thing in my experience of my principles not being accepted in the profession of journalism. In a newspaper you had to come to terms, or resist whatever it was you were resisting. But the journalist was the person who had to take the last stand. The question of how much freedom is a rather ridiculous question. I am not talking about freedom as it affects this Motion, but how we analyse the nature of freedom in a newspaper office.
We hear all this about a closed shop. Some of us may have great reservations about the closed shop. But one thing I can say is that in the behaviour within a newspaper office the functions of a closed shop will neither be apparent nor real. There will be no pressure on an editor. I do not ask any charter to establish that. There may be a pressure on the industry in the case where you are having an all-out industrial dispute. Policywise I do not ever believe it. I have three editors sitting behind me, and they will testify as to how editors behave in relation to their staff and how the staff behave in relation to their editors.
This is not something which is a real danger. On the Daily Herald, a Labour paper, when we felt that the editor was being unduly pressurised, by Odhams Press, who were the printers but nevertheless controlled the Daily Herald, and when we found that the editor, Francis Williams—our late noble friend in this House—was being unduly restricted or restrained by them, we, the Herald chapel, with all responsibility, not threatening to go on 553 strike or to take any industrial action, simply produced a statement of principle as to what was the nature of the paper we wanted to work for. We were not trying to run the newspaper office. We said: "This is what we feel is the kind of paper we want."
The same thing happened in the last stages of the News Chronicle. If they had listened to us, perhaps the News Chronicle would still be alive. We simply said, with all our experience—and I think my colleagues will agree with me that we were a pretty impressive group of people on the News Chronicle at that time: "We are not telling you how to run your business. You are running it damned badly. Nevertheless we are not telling you how to run it. We are telling you the kind of paper we want to work for. Here is a prospectus for a good paper from an absolutely committed staff". There were no threats; nothing. We were not walking out, or doing anything of that kind.
This is the kind of thing that happens in journalistic practice. The people who dispute that are invariably the weaklings of our profession. There are loud-mouthed people in our profession, but most of the responsible newspaper men who are identifiable as newspaper men take their responsibilities and the freedom of the Press very seriously. I come back to the specification of freedom. Could I, as a young journalist, or even in later years, have imposed something on my editor? If there was something I felt strongly about of course I could by persuasion. Could I have got something into the paper which was not something I could justifiably establish as newsworthy? Could I have got it in because it was my personal opinion about it? No.
I will tell your Lordships something that has happened in journalism, and my former colleagues will agree with me here. Although I probably stand here as a byline journalist, as one who became known as a personality, I still feel that the greatest days of my career were when we had anonymous reporters. The Daily News, when I started in 1926, had a fine group of reporters, and we covered everything. We were general reporters.
We were like an orchestra. The news editor—not the editor; he was way up somewhere writing his leaders; that was the 554 kind of paper it was then—was the leader of an orchestra. He assigned duties to people for the kind of things for which they had aptitudes, and we might cover three or four items in a day. But one of those items was ours. That was something personal; that was not a piece of tendentious writing; not a piece of high-minded thinking; it was simply the presentation of a story in a way which would best attract the interest of the readers.
This is non-tendentious journalism at its best: good journalism, good writing, and no injection of politics, philosophies, or high-mindedness, and so on, into whatever it is, to warp the news. This is one of the things we have to get into the nature of the Press. You do not get that by edicts or by directions. You can only do it by building up in the profession, as in my day, this tremendous sense that the thing you were judged by was the product the following morning.
I remember the managing editor of the Daily News the first day I joined at the age of 19. He sent for me and said, "On this paper we do not sign news stories. If you make the editorial page, all right, you can sign your own features. On the news pages we never sign news. But every article you write has got to be signed with your own personality. It has to reflect what is in fact the quality of your writing."
We are a long way from that, because a great deal of what we are studying and animadverting on is the fact that we have got now the commentary situation: the commentator. I will say without doubt and any reservation, coming back to my first point, that in the days when The Times said "Our Washington correspondent", and you read that despatch which, shall we say, was critical of the Government in America, or whatever it was, that was something surprising. But The Times was saying it. If I read the name of the Washington correspondent I reach the point when I am arguing with somebody I know, and his opinions are no better than mine.
Who wants to do what? We talk about freedom to print. But how does one get freedom to print? When we are talking about the media in general we find that whenever a minority wants 555 space and representation they do not want local radio or offtime space; they want prime time. Whenever one finds people resenting the fact that they are not getting a voice, what they are resenting is that they are not getting prime time or the front pages or main editorial pages of newspapers.
I had intended to deal with the viability of newspapers but I will not delay your Lordships. The viability of my profession, as distinct from the viability of the industry, depends on the quality of the people we get in and not the lack of quality in the people we throw out. It certainly does not depend just on transient editors; it depends on the community and the response of entire newspaper staffs. We must get quality generally into our newspapers and I hope to see, before I die, a restoration of real professionalism in this medium.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord CUDLIPP
My Lords, I congratulate the Royal Commission on traversing yet again that well-tilled and waterlogged field and coming out of the whole exercise, so far as I can see, without getting their boots dirty. They avoided falling into the well-defined ditches. They came down very heavily against Government subsidies, the pooling of advertising and the notion of a National Printing Corporation—all those familiar but dangerous panaceas.
I believe the Royal Commission had completed its task and its thinking before the suggestion made recently by a very powerful trade union leader (not a newspaper union leader) that a standing commission should be empowered to grant licences to newspaper publishers. Obviously, the power to grant a licence would manifestly carry with it the power to withhold, delay, cancel or threaten to cancel such a licence, and I do not believe the Royal Commission would have fallen into that particularly murky ditch.
The Commission has no solution to offer to the agonising labour relations which beset this industry, nor could it reasonably be expected to produce such a solution. It advocated a strong Newspaper Publishers' Association, planned technological change, a single production union, better behaved chapels and a coherent 556 wage structure, all of which are laudable aims. It must be said to the credit of both sides of the industry that Fleet Street did in fact set up a Joint Standing Committee of publishers and union leaders to discuss these problems. Great progress was made, and then the shop floor voted and rejected the joint approach. I suggest that it is no longer valid to castigate management as weak or the union leaders as Luddite obstructionists.
The rest of what I have to say is, I regret, rather critical of the industry in which I spent 46 years of my life and of which I am now a dissatisfied customer. Until five years ago, I could be counted on to defend the Press against all comers—not always successfully, probably not always justifiably, but always enthusiastically. Now that I am further away from the portrait, the warts are more apparent. I feel no urge to put my foot through the canvas or hire a butler to dispose of it, but the recurring thought is that the national Press on its current form is letting the public down and therefore undermining democracy.
A daily newspaper which is not published every day, and when it is published is blemished by jumbled words and missing lines, is an amateur abomination. In the apologies for inefficiency which we often read in the newspapers, there always appears the unctuous phrase, "The loyalty of our readers". I think that loyalty is not inexhaustible and I suggest that it is waning. Noble Lords no doubt found enough examples of typographical schizophrenia in the newspaper they bought and read this morning. I will therefore quote only a few cases.
In the Observer of 15th January I read a piece headlined, "Villiers shows his cutting edge. "Sir Charles Villiers is not the only person displaying his cutting edge in that report. Two important paragraphs ended in a complete nonsense with lines missing. Another paragraph had missing lines in the middle and there were two typographical errors. In The Times of 19th January the part of a news story which began on the front page had no errors at all. When the same story turned to page 6 the linotype machines appeared to have been hi-jacked by typographical terrorists; there were 30 misprints in 126 lines. I do not know how that would work out proportionately in terms of the Lord's Prayer.
557 I remember a three-line comment by the Diplomatic Correspondent of the Guardian at the end of an international item. I could decipher four words and could only assume that the rest of the sentence was set in Esperanto. On a recent radio programme in Portsmouth a lady seriously asked me if I thought that the spelling errors by journalists in the Guardian were yet another sign of falling standards in British education. I tried to explain. If a manufacturer of clothes or household goods treated the public with similar contempt he could be taken to court. An indecipherable newspaper is as serious a fraud on the purchaser as a buttonless shirt, a frying pan without a handle or a mini-car with a silent horn or faulty brakes. Worse still, these misprints and missing or jumbled lines in most of our Press today undermine the authenticity of the printed word and therefore of the newspaper.
We are all entitled to disagree with what a newspaper says. Equally, we are entitled to know for our money what a newspaper is saying. I can recollect no other period when the finished product has reached such abysmal standards. At the end of last year, The Times apologised for weeks on end for its typographical errors. There is another abomination; the irregularity of newspaper delivery. The utter unreliability of the service has now become a farce of which the public is sick and tired. The year 1977 has been described as Fleet Street's blackest year in a gloomy decade of decline. In the calendar year the print loss of the national daily papers through industrial disputes was 102 million copies. We need not concern ourselves with what the various parts of the industry lost financially.
In the South, the Daily Mirror disappeared for three consecutive issues and then for 11 consecutive issues, and the Daily Express for six consecutive issues. The Times, printing only in the South, totally disappeared for eight issues, and the Financial Times for 22 consecutive issues. There was no Daily Telegraph in the South yesterday. I hear that the Yorkshire Post has—and this is the phrase I use—"resumed publication". That is today's announcement. Now, the readers are expected to welcome them all back as if nothing had occurred. In 1977 the print loss on the national Sunday newspapers 558 was 23,700,000 copies. The Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People lost a complete issue in the South, and the Observer totally vanished for one issue. There was no Sunday Telegraph this week. Month after month last year the Sunday Times—a newspaper which does not hesitate to draw attention to the motes in other eyes—had to publish on its front page a regular item apologising for the distribution chaos of its previous issue.
This was the sorry performance of the British Press in 1977, now going on into 1978. It is a performance which surely deprives newspapers of their right and duty to criticise the industrial horrors of other industries. Who cares now what a newspaper thinks of the turmoil in British Leyland, or of the mean-minded strikes at our airports at holiday time? An industry so frequently sabotaged by industrial anarchy and gross irresponsibility by its work force is, I suggest, in no position to pontificate or adjudicate convincingly upon similar behaviour elsewhere. I would assume that Reveille is not required reading in this House, but its non-appearance this week is of great importance. It had been chosen by the Mirror Group to pioneer the new photocomposition technology, and to pioneer it for four national newspapers. Full agreement had been reached with the NGA after more than two years of negotiation. Then, at the last moment, some of the members said, "To hell with it".
Financially, Fleet Street must lick its own self-inflicted wounds if it can still afford to do so; but it is a melancholy thought that in a year when two British national newspapers had to be rescued, one by a British shipping and building tycoon and the other by an American oil company, several of the seven unions in the industry seldom left their dirk in its scabbard. How can readers be expected to take seriously newspapers which are constantly hectoring us on the importance of the freedom of the Press when the freedom they so frequently exercise is the freedom not to appear on the bookstalls? Whether it is the fault of members of this or that union, or the harvest of weak management in the past, is no longer anybody's concern except Fleet Street's. Yet the anxiety of us all about the independence, diversity and editorial standards of the British Press, and the freedom 559 of choice for the public—the terms of reference of this Commission—has been demonstrated once again in this debate. We are discussing the report of the third Royal Commission on the Press in, I believe, 30 years. Nobody can doubt Parliament's concern or the public's concern. What I would hope to see is a greater awareness in Fleet Street itself of the role of the Press and of its responsibilities in our society.
It is surely an essential service. Viewed from outside, the historic commitment to uninterrupted publication appears to have been treated in Fleet Street in the past 12 months with appalling levity. I have great sympathy, as has the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, with the discontent of journalists who have seen their rewards fall behind those of less skilled workers. It would be intolerable if they were permanently paid less than the men who handle their copy. I also understand the concern of newspaper employees who can see the number of their jobs diminishing because of the new technologies which are essential to the survival of the industry. But it is hard to sustain that sympathy when a ramshackle service of sub-standard newspapers continues to be foisted upon the public, so often unable to buy the paper of their choice, and frequently served on the breakfast table with the previous day's tea-time news because of sabotaged production.
Finally, my Lords, newspapers no longer cost a penny. The customer who buys his daily paper for between 6p and 15p and his Sunday newspaper for between 12p and 22p cannot be blamed if he concludes that too many journalists have lost pride in their profession and too many artisans pride in their craft. Some of those craftsmen undergo an apprenticeship of five years. Oddly enough, the disruptive of them—and that is by no means all of them—do not seem to need any apprenticeship at all to become master crasftsmen in newspaper demolition. The tradition that the newspaper must come out at all costs appears to be dead and buried. What Field-Marshal Goering failed to achieve when his bombers and V-bombs harassed London at night-time during the war is now accomplished by the simple device of calling a mandatory union meeting and arguing or sulking away the peak production hours. An 560 industry staffed with intelligent and articulate men and women journalists, and over-staffed with the highest-paid craftsmen, must do something in 1978 for the industry on which their jobs depend by accepting the prescribed disputes procedure instead of betraying their readers and their advertisers. A Royal Commission has again done its best. I suggest that the rest, my Lords, is up to Fleet Street. It must save itself or sink.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord HALE
My Lords, I have hesitated to speak, but Lord Hunt gave the excuse for intervention when he said he would like someone completely independent to intervene. My only interest to declare is that I receive each week, free of charge, what I think are two of the very best papers now published, and have done for the last 10 years. One of them is the Law Society's Gazette, which has improved beyond all measure. It would be inappropriate for me to develop that point now; it can come up later on, when we deal with the report of the other Royal Commission, on the law. The other is the Oldham Weekly Chronicle. It is a Liberal newspaper, and it is the best part of 100 years old. I have not saddled myself with any of the details, because I know it so well. I have never known it indulge in any bitterness of criticism in any attacks. It may be a little cool in its enthusiasm about the local council on occasion; it may have to mention disputes which have occurred at Ferranti's, and in which I have taken a decidedly controversial part; but this is part of the warp and weft of the town. It is why there is to be found, at any rate in places north of the Trent, a decency and an integrity.
I want to say at least this: let us see the opportunity come for these small newspapers, even if their efforts are sometimes now supplemented by the local broadcasting station, to continue to be viable and not be gathered up under the aegis of a mass company which, in this sense, I criticise, because I do not believe it can supply the local integrity, the local specialised knowledge, the atmosphere of Lancashire.
Of course, things alter and newspapers alter. As a man of 74 I think I may be allowed to look with some cynicism at so much of the space all the magazines and 561 all the papers now devote largely to mammary glands and to Mammon. But I have never been censorious and I have no desire to be so. The noble Lord, Lord Jacobson, said, fairly and properly, that you cannot run a mass circulation newspaper without pleasing your readers and devoting yourself largely to the thinking of your readers. I take the view that, in general, the British Press is the best in the world. I can remember one of my indignant friends once saying that it was the worst in the world. That was a distinguished colleague, who has gone.
Since the so-called trial of Queen Caroline and all the filth that was chucked about at that time (largely outside the normal Press, anyway), nothing has ever occurred in the history of the British Press such as happened in France, where, for a time, the French newspapers seemed to have the lead for sheer genius and where, throughout the Third Republic, there was a history of corruption and of blackmail and a history of newspapers sold to the country's enemies. There were papers like L'Action Francaise, the Roman Catholic paper, which achieved the distinction of being placed on the Index Expurgatorius—believed to be a record of its kind.
I have reached the stage where I am going to sit down within a measurable period of time. I should like only to say that I have had rather an unfortunate day because of something which was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in what I may say was a typically brilliant but largely predictable speech. There is no criticism in that; for this is a largely predictable Royal Commission and its presentation might well depend on whether it was going to be serialised in The Times or the Daily Mirror; although I am not sure that the Daily Mirror would bid for it; or, at any rate, not for much. But the freedom of the Press is the right freely to criticise the Executive without limit. It is a right, to quote another newspaper, to "publish everything that is fit to publish". I, personally, have continually denounced this increasing habit of having an Official Secrets Act to deal with this and that. I would make everything public. I would throw open the Foreign Office every Friday morning—they have always been wrong about most things; and there is not much disclosure. People who have appealed and sent letters persuading our 562 Allies to make known the details of the atom bomb, now have something to say because there is not much we can teach the two great nations for whom I have a good deal of admiration and who have always posed, for some reason I do not understand, as our potential enemies.
We have had serious, able and impressive speeches by people who know. The only criticism I would make is that it sounded a little like a cobbler continuously saying: "There is nothing like leather." Indeed, it was not devoid of leather. But the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in his opening speech attacked, by inference, one friend of mine, an old friend who may deserve criticism by adopting almost the words of the Royal Commission in connection with the question of slush funds for—on this occasion—"wogs". I think that "slush funds for wogs" was in the speech that we have all heard referred to. The world has been confronted by bribery on an immerse scale. The one criticism of the Press that one could make usefully is that so much has gone on without being exposed. I should like to see it exposed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in his point about issuing writs to clamp down on publicity.
I sometimes think that in this House perhaps we have been putting the Press into more shackles in pursuance of a desire to do good and to abolish race hatred or even race criticism to an extent. It may be that many of us on both sides were very uneasy either in appearing to help those who opposed the Bill or to think that we were, perhaps, putting restraints on the freedom of speech, which is the noblest part of our heritage.
I have no criticism of the Report of the Royal Commission. I am inclined to agree with those who say that a Royal Commission is not, perhaps, the best way of getting massive information on these lines—and I have had some personal experience of them. Indeed, £713,000 seems somewhat a high price to pay for this excellent, readable, quotable document. But there is, in the main, the right to criticise the Government, the right which the noble Lord opposite on the Front Bench exercised—I thought, with a touch of partiality—when he denounced one of my other best friends in the Palace of Westminster, the Deputy Prime Minister—a great writer, a great Parliamentarian 563 and, normally, a great apostle of freedom. At the moment he is in a situation in which the Government have not got a lot of freedom and, at least at the moment, he is, himself, being confronted with much stronger criticism in the other place. I apologise if I may have to leave the House for a single minute, or two minutes, to make some arrangements for food. I will return immediately, if I may.
§ 7.59 p.m.
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for putting before the House the importance of a "free, diverse, responsible and thriving Press", and for doing it so comprehensively and with such clarity and elegance of expression. We would all agree that he made a most impressive introduction. In framing his Motion, he has used a string of highly suitable adjectives to express what we all desire—free, diverse, responsible and thriving. He might, I suppose, have added one more: a liberal Press, which again we all desire. But from the balanced way in which he presented his case, if he had used that word, I am sure that he would not have been tempted to use a capital "L". However, the debate, which has included many expert speeches from people with a lifetime of experience of the Press, has revealed that while we all in our modern and complex society have this series of high expectations of our Press, they are not always consistent, one with another, and, indeed, conflict develops between them, as has been illustrated in a number of speeches.
Many people have long been concerned that the private, commercial, proprietorship of the Press, traditionally held to be an essential factor for a free Press, has not brought about a true diversity of editorial opinion, and that the commercial requirements for success or even survival must often conflict with society's expectations of a diversity of titles and responsibility of journalistic and editorial practice. Many would urge strongly measures designed to protect individuals or institutions from malice or irresponsibility on the part of the Press; but any such measures inherently involve limitations on the freedom of the Press.
It is not surprising that in the period of rapid social change since the end of the 564 Second World War there has been continuing concern, given the commercial and social environment within which it operates, about the ability of the Press to fulfill the demands we place upon it. Three Royal Commissions have sat, as so many speakers have stressed, with terms of reference echoing concerns such as those that have been described so vividly in this debate.
As others have said, the most recent Royal Commission, appointed in 1974, published its Final Report in July of last year; it is a substantial report representing three years' thorough and painstaking work. In this House this evening we have been fortunate to be able to listen to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who was a member of the Royal Commission. We are glad, too, that he will shortly be joined here by his colleague Lord McGregor, who chaired the Royal Commission, and I echo those who have said that we look forward to having him with us in this House.
In their Interim Report on the national newspaper industry, the Royal Commission had looked critically at the immediate problems and prospects of Fleet Street. In their Final Report they look at the industry as a whole and cover the broader philosophical and political problems encompassed by the Motion that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, moved today. They make a number of practical recommendations on matters such as freedom of expression within the limits of fair comment, the proposed charter on Press freedom, the rights of individuals to privacy, the role of the Press Council, the maintenance of diversity, the avoidance of undue concentration among the news media and industrial relations. On one of the most vital questions, the possible role of Government intervening directly to foster greater diversity and, thus, political balance in the Press, the Royal Commission was not unanimous, and a minority report by Mr. David Basnett and Mr. Geoffrey Goodman recommended various measures which might be taken.
My Lords, the Government's response to the Interim Report of the Royal Commission was given by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Trade in another place. Since then, the members of the Fleet Street unions have rejected the Joint Standing 565 Committee's Programme for Action, and the Royal Commission in its Final Report said that its recommendations on a joint approach to the solution of Fleet Street's internal problems, and on the role of Government in promoting it, must stand suspended.
The Government are still considering the Final Report; the consultation period expired as recently as 31st December last. Noble Lords will therefore understand that I cannot yet indicate what our response will be to its various recommendations, though I can describe some of the factors we will be taking into accoint. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and others, expressed concern today about the implications for the health of the industry of traditional manning practices. The use of manpower within the newspaper industry, especially the national newspaper industry, is of course a major stumbling block in the achievement of greater efficiency. Over a number of years, different houses have been negotiating reductions in manpower, usually linked to greater security of employment. The introduction of new technology gives the opportunity for further significant moves in this direction.
The proposals contained in the Joint Standing Committee Document Programme for Action recognised this and went a long way to meet the problems that the newspaper industry must face if it is to be viable in the 1980s. I appreciate the reasons why these proposals have not so far been accepted by the industry as a whole. The changes that are needed do represent a radical departure from existing habits of thought and behaviour. I hope however that employers and unions will continue earnestly to seek ways of making progress and carrying on the constructive joint efforts of the Joint Standing Committee.
Concern has also been expressed today about the possible role of Government and the use of subsidies. This was the area of greatest divergence within the Royal Commission. They were united in lamenting the lack of a "left of centre" newspaper, one which would be less extreme than the Morning Star, less popular than the Daily Mirror, and more committed to the Labour Party and the trade union movement than the Guardian; but they were sharply divided in their views as to 566 whether there was a role for Government here. That there is such a gap in the spectrum of newspapers, few in Fleet Street would disagree, I think. But the question of how it might be filled raises issues of principle which have been recognised by all concerned: the Government are presently considering those issues, the arguments of the majority and minority reports, and the various reactions to those arguments which have been submitted to us: the views expressed in this debate will also be a helpful contribution to our considerations.
On the one hand, we have the need for the positive encouragement of diversity. On the other hand, there is the question of how to deal with newspaper mergers and monopoly. As regards monopolies and concentration in the Press, the Government share the Royal Commission's concern at the growth of concentration in the provincial Press and, in particular, in local weekly newspapers. I am glad to note that the Commission found no evidence of the abuse of local Press monopolies, either in one-sided reporting or in advertising rates and cover prices. Nevertheless, we recognise that local Press monopoly, particularly where local newspapers are in single ownership over a wide area, carries with it the possibility of such abuse, in addition to the lack of diversity that it entails.
My noble friend Lord Jacobson referred in his speech to the question of monopolies legislation, and I assure him that the Government are giving close attention to the Commission's recommendations for the strengthening of the newspaper mergers legislation, taking into account the public comments we have received since the report was published. Meanwhile, we shall continue to apply the existing legislation in a way which as far as possible maintains the diversity of the Press, including the local Press, consistent with its prosperity.
Much has been made of the impact on the health of our Press of in industrial relations which have been widely characterised as anarchic. Following a detailed study of the problems by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, the Royal Commission recommended a thorough overhaul of industrial relations within the newspaper industry. It suggested arrangements for a broader-based system 567 of consultation between management and unions and a longer-term view of the implications of new technology for the industry as a whole. This longer-term perspective might be expected to lead to a reduction in the number of industrial disputes, which should help the industry achieve greater profitability. A relatively new and highly controversial factor in industrial relations in the Press, and one which has before attracted the attention and concern of noble Lords, is the issue of the closed shop in journalism and its implications for the freedom of the Press.
A number of speakers in today's debate have touched upon the question of the closed shop and, therefore, I think I should briefly restate the Government's position on this question. The Government's position on the closed shop is one of neutrality. Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts 1974 and 1976 it is lawful for employers and trade unions to seek and conclude shop agreements. Indeed, this has been the position for many years, with the exception of a comparatively short period under the highly unsuccessful Conservative Industrial Relations Act 1971. Closed shop agreements are not, however, compulsory; neither employers nor trade unions can be forced by law to reach such an agreement if either thinks it against its interests to do so for any reason; and in drawing up such agreements they have complete freedom to make whatever exceptions and special provisions they consider necessary.
On the more particular question of the closed shop in journalism, the Government accept the genuine nature of the fears expressed during the passage of our trade union legislation about the implications for the freedom of the Press. It was for this reason that a provision relating to a Press Charter was, with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament, inserted into the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976. This provided for the drawing up of a Charter containing practical guidance on matters relating to the freedom of the Press. These matters included, amongst other things, the question of the closed shop in journalism. Under the terms of the Act, the parties within the newspaper industry had 12 months to discuss and agree such a Charter. Under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Pearce, a number of 568 discussions were held, but in spite of some progress being made, no general agreement was reached. The task of preparing a Charter now falls to the Secretary of State for Employment, who will be assisted not only by the progress made in the Pearce talks, but also by the recommendations on the Charter made by the Royal Commission on the Press which is the subject of today's discussion. I can assure noble Lords that he will take full account of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission.
My honourable friend, the Minister of State, at the Department of Employment, acting on the Secretary of State's behalf, has now begun a series of meetings with various parties in the newspaper industry, in order to ascertain their views. Under the terms of the legislation, he will also consult the TUC, the CBI and the Press Council. After the completion of these far-reaching consultations, the Secretary of State will prepare a draft Charter which will be submitted for approval to both Houses of Parliament. I do not doubt that noble Lords will examine the draft Charter most closely. But I would suggest that it would be wise for noble Lords to reserve judgment in this matter until the contents of such a Charter are made known to them. After all, this House, as well as another place, agreed that a provision should be inserted into legislation requiring such a Charter—indeed, the idea originated with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—and it seems only fair to wait until a draft appears before us.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, wondered whether I could indicate a date by which the draft Charter might have appeared. I am sorry to have to disappoint him: I have indicated the process that is now going through and I can assure him—and I do not mean this to be an evasive reply—that there will be no undue delay.
Turning from the internal structure of the Press, this debate has also touched on the question of the legal constraints imposed by the general law of the land but which in practice impinge predominantly on the Press. This country has a long tradition of editorial independence and of an active and interested Press, with even now no fewer than nine national daily papers. With certain limited 569 exceptions, as the report of the Royal Commission points out, no legal restriction is placed on the right to buy or launch a newspaper, and this in itself is an ingredient of the freedom traditionally associated with Press activities in this country. Freedom depends on having the wherewithal—and that clearly was a factor lying behind the thinking of those who signed the minority report. This tradition of a free Press constitutes one of the main bulwarks of the free society that we enjoy—and indeed perhaps are inclined too often to take for granted—and which is admired in many parts of the world.
It is the policy of this Government, as of their predecessors, that this fundamental freedom should be maintained and that any legal constraints that operate to restrict freedom of publication should be kept to the essential minimum and do no more than is absolutely necessary to protect national security, standards of decency, the reputation of individuals and the proper administration of justice. There have, of course, been suggestions from time to time for changing the law, both to help the Press acquire information and to protect the individual. It is against this background that the Government will be considering the various recommendations made by the Royal Commission in this area.
My Lords, I hope that I have made crystal clear the Government's commitment to a free Press; the Royal Commission, however, reminds us that freedom must be exercised with responsibility. This is a subject which has excited a good deal of attention in recent years and it will no doubt continue to generate public discussion as particular instances arise in which the exercise of editorial judgment excites criticism and complaint.
As noble Lords will be aware, there are a considerable number of cases in which dissatisfaction has been expressed about Press treatment of individuals and organisations; for example, where there has been invasion of private grief, alleged over-publication of matters involving the personal lives of well-known people, the practice of cheque book journalism and the excess of enthusiasm shown from time to time by some reporters in certain kinds of so-called investigative journalism.
570 Some departures from proper standards in the Press may be dealt with by way of the legal remedies available both to the State and to individuals, but, where the legal constraints do not operate, or are not employed, by those who may be aggrieved by Press conduct, there is the independent body established by the newspaper industry itself. I mean, of course, the Press Council, among whose functions is that of considering complaints that Press freedom has been exercised irresponsibly. The Council is thus a most important agency of self-discipline. Perhaps I should mention that it also has the significant additional rôle of considering complaints about extra-legal interference with the freedom of the Press.
The Royal Commission sees a wholly independent Press Council—independent, that is, of both the Government and the industry itself—as playing a key role in maintaining public confidence in the Press. The Commission rejects, as potentially authoritarian, suggestions for a standing commission responsible to a Minister for monitoring the performance of the Press.
The Council's initial response to the Press Commission's recommendations, all of which were directed to the Press, Council itself, was published in December. The major recommendation for the amendment of the Council's constitution so that it should consist of an equal number of Press and non-Press members, with an independent non-Press chairman, has been accepted. This means that the present non-Press membership of the Council will be increased from 10 to 18. The Council hopes that this will serve to increase public confidence in the impartiality of the Council as an adjudicating body. The Council will continue to embody a substantial element drawn from within the Press; this will enable the Council to retain confidence and respect of editors.
In conclusion, may I again say that I think that this has been a most useful and timely debate. It has allowed the House to direct its thoughts to problems of lasting significance at a most appropriate time, and we have listened to many stimulating and expert speeches. The many and varied views expressed by noble Lords today will, I assure your Lordships, be taken fully into account by the Government as they reach their conclusions on the final report of the 571 Commission, and those conclusions of the Government will, I hope, be announced in the not too distant future.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, all those who are concerned in the future of the Press will want me to express on their behalf their gratitude to your Lordships who have participated in this debate. There has been a series of constructive contributions, not least that of the noble Lord, Lord Oram, on behalf of the Government, which I know will be studied with great care far beyond the confines of your Lordships' House. It is tempting to conclude a debate on the Press by moving for Papers, but I understand that that might cause some considerable confusion. I therefore formally ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.