HL Deb 23 November 1978 vol 396 cc1081-3

3.10 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows

To ask Her Majesty's Government when a Statement on progress towards a Press charter can be expected.


My Lords, an extensive series of consultations on the content of the charter has been carried out by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment. The outcome of these consultations is under consideration by the Government.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his reply, may I ask him to urge upon the Minister concerned the fact that it is now nearly 18 months since Parliament laid upon the Minister for Employment the duty of consulting upon and promulgating a charter for the Press? Would he further bear in mind that the Press at the moment is under very great tensions, industrial and otherwise, and that anything which can be done in this field will be helpful?


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that, particularly these days, this is a very urgently required matter. At the same time, the House will appreciate that this is a very complicated matter. Although the TUC, the CBI and the Press Council remain to be consulted, as required by legislation, even after the considerable consultations which have already taken place—I have a list here—it may be necessary to have further consultations with the people who have already been consulted. I hope that every effort will be made to come to a final conclusion. Very often the media advise other people as to how to carry out their consultations and arrangements; perhaps they themselves should get a move on in order to provide the necessary answer.


My Lords, could the noble Lord indicate whether any progress has been made towards reducing the threat to freedom of expression which is posed by the operation of the closed shop in journalism?


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Lord on that point. It is not within my province to give any indication of what has so far been agreed. From the point of view of final negotiations, obviously it would not be advantageous to do so.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us are very disappointed at the slow progress which has been made in reaching agreement about this charter? In view of the situation in Fleet Street regarding The Times and the decision today of the NUJ to call a strike, would not an agreement on a charter help to resolve those problems?


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I believe that all those who are concerned and involved in the preparation of this charter should take note of the remarks which have been made by my noble friend and others and bring the matter to a conclusion as soon as possible. However, the Government cannot act unless the whole question is finalised and agreement is completely and absolutely reached, otherwise the outcome would be a nonsense and further trouble would arise.