|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Minister has made a declaration of neutrality. If the Bill is given a Second Reading and goes into Committee, where a number of matters will have to be cleared up, will the Government play a positive part? Will the Minister on the Committee point out the difficulties so that we can alter the Bill if necessary, or will this neutrality be maintained?
Mr. Renton : I rather hope that I may serve on the Committee. I intended to touch on the role that I would play in my final remarks--which, I assure the House, are getting nearer. I apologise for taking so long, but I have given way several times.
Although I should like to make a number of points, time is getting on and other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall mention only two aspects. First, the Bill applies to any unauthorised public use or public disclosure of private information. But public use and public disclosure are defined in clause 7 as relating to circumstances in which the material is made known simply to persons other than the individual to whom it relates. Two or more persons
Column 1350would apparently be sufficient, provided that the disclosure was made in the form of printed matter or broadcast material. That leads on to the point that printed matter includes devices for automatic data processing, and could therefore catch material produced on a word processor, while broadcast material includes material reproduced by electronic means, and could therefore apply to the playing back of an audio cassette or tape recorder. The Bill could thus cover cases in which disclosure had in practice been made on a very limited scale, and had not been made public in the normal sense of the word.
Secondly, I think that there may be a problem with the requirement in clause 1 that proceedings must be brought by or on behalf of any person to whom the information relates. There may well be cases in which the distress, annoyance or embarrassment caused by the disclosure is suffered most acutely not by the person to whom the information relates but by a relative. In such cases, the aggrieved person would have no cause for action.
I have pointed out some of the issues on which the sponsors will need to concentrate if the Bill goes into Committee. Because, for the reasons that I have given, the Government are not yet persuaded of the need for such a Bill, I feel that despite the blandishments of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, the onus must be on him, not on me or my Department, to consider how the Bill can be improved to meet the points that I have mentioned.
As I have said, I do not intend to ask hon. Members to vote against Second Reading, despite my reservations about the Bill. We recognise the strength of feeling on these matters, and understand the widespread impatience in Parliament and the country for legislative action. Nevertheless the Bill as drafted poses significant problems. If the House decides to give it a Second Reading, we shall want to be satisfied at the end of the Committee stage that it can be made to work in a way that will not raise insuperable difficulties for the courts and those affected by it.
The Government's critics, be they political journalists or Members of Parliament, are fond of branding us foes of press freedom. We have been accused of wishing to censor newspapers, of designs to shackle civil liberties and of manufacturing cloaks of secrecy with the same speed and effectiveness as is deployed by Marks and Spencer in making socks or shirts. This debate should have punctured some of the extravagant assertions of those critics. I find it ironic that some of the hon. Members who have harried us most fiercely over our alleged concern for secrecy may today vote for a measure that will certainly define and limit the scope of investigative journalism. The truth is that the Government start from the premise that we cannot have a free society without a free press.
Mr. Renton : From that it follows that any legislative curbs on newspapers and journalists--I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) will bear this in mind--should be imposed only after careful thought and only when a matter of overriding national interest is involved. That is why, in our Official Secrets Bill, we are removing the great majority of official information from the protection of the criminal law. That is also why, despite my sympathy for my hon. Friend's objectives, and
Column 1351despite the eloquent and persuasive speech that he has made, I must ask the House to consider carefully the pitfalls that lie along the road that he wishes us to tread.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : We have just had 45 minutes of neutrality. It was akin to Mussolini's neutrality when he went to the aid of his pal, Adolph Hitler, at the start of the second world war.
I shall not weary the House with a detailed reply to the Minister of State's main points, which so unimpressed his hon. Friends. All I would say is that, as he knows very well, in areas such as nuisance, negligence and obscenity, juries can and do, every day of the week, on the basis of their common sense, take a view on the basis of the facts that are put before them. In none of these cases is there a detailed guide.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on enabling the House to debate this important topic, the wisdom of which is demonstrated by the unusually large turn-out of hon. Members.
I approach the Bill as both a journalist and a Member of Parliament. I have experience on both sides of the privacy fence. When I was on the Daily Mirror some years ago, I was sent to cover an accident in which twins had been killed in a playground accident. I drew the line at approaching either the parents or the relations, having got other aspects of the story, but because of that I was called to the office and given a wigging. Years later, my wife and I lost a baby in a cot accident. Although I was not then a Member of Parliament, a local journalist, under the guise of friendship, rang to express condolences and to ask for a photograph of the baby. We much resented that intrusion, and I do not doubt that all others in that position would do so as well.
There is no doubt that the excesses of the sewer Sun and other tabloids have reached such proportions in the quest for sensation and sleaze that action must now be taken, but we should be cautious about legislating on matters that affect the press. Whatever the justification, we should not legislate out of feelings of revenge. Even the sewer Sun seems to recognise the concern over the deliberate slide into profitable sleaze. It began a startling report on 17 January in mock reverential tones, not usually found in this rag. It crowed :
"The Sun is pleased to announce today the appointment of an ombudsman to act as an independent referee to hear and settle complaints by readers."
The independence of Mr. Ken Donlan, the 61-year-old managing editor of the Sun, is clearly in no doubt. He is paid by the Sun, he works full time for the Sun --so that, of course, ensures his total independence.
I hope that there is no truth in the story that is going around that Mr. Donlan greeted his appointment with some such offensive words as, "I'm the man who's got to deal with all those whingeing, pinko poofters." If he did not say that, or words to that effect, I apologise, but they fit exactly into the language that the sewer Sun uses daily.
Mr. Rupert Murdoch, the proud proprietor of the Sun, greeted the appointment thus, and presumably with a straight face :
"Newspapers and journalists today face heavy respons-ibilities to preserve the freedom we all enjoy by living up to the best traditions of British journalism."
That could have come stright from the mouth of the editor of the Daily Crucible in the "Hot Metal" series. It sounds
Column 1352all the more odd coming from Mr. Murdoch, given the vast sums in damages that his newspapers have had to hand over in the courts and elsewhere.
The Daily Mirror has had an ombudsman for four years. I tried to ring him yesterday. I was put through to the publisher's office, and, when I asked for the ombudsman, the person to whom I spoke grilled me on who I was and then asked, "Is he here?". "How do I know?", I replied. "Is he here for a meeting?", I was asked. "I have no idea.", I said, "He is the Daily Mirror ombudsman.". I was told, "Let me try another number.". Another number rang and I was back with Mr. Maxwell's office. We both laughed. There was a rustle of pages as telephone lists were consulted. Then I was told, "I only have an external number." I said, "What is an external number?", and I was told, "It is not an internal number ; it is a home number.". I asked, "May I have it?". I was told, "I will check.". A moment later, back came the voice, "I have an idea, why don't you give me your number and I will ask him to ring you.". I asked, "But how can an ombudsman have a confidential number?". I was told, "It is the only one we have.".
I am still awaiting a call from the Daily Mirror ombudsman, and after this I doubt that I shall get one, so perhaps there is not much hope of help from ombudsmen, whatever they are, but the fact remains that they can come into operation only after the events which are complained about have taken place.
What about the Press Council? Even under the vigorous leadership of Louis Blom-Cooper, QC, there is little evidence yet of any lack of willingness or effort on the part, not of the Press Council, but of the newspaper proprietors in whose name and at whose behest the things about which everyone who has spoken today has complained are carried out. The Murdochs of this world have demonstrated that they will not comply with the Press Council now, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that they would welcome the Press Council having stronger powers.
The problem is that many tabloid owners and editors think that anything goes and, certainly in the case of the sewer Sun, have given themselves a licence to lie. No one is safe from the sewer Sun. Falklands war widows had words put into their mouths by a journalist who was subsequently appointed editor of one of Mr. Murdoch's newspapers. The victim of the Ealing rape had an alleged photograph of her smeared across the front page of that rag. The lorry driver, Terrance McCabe, was attacked by the Sun when he refused to cross the picket lines at Wapping, as the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) said. His previous spent convictions were continually carried as part of a vendetta by Sun journalists against small people who they know cannot hit or hurt them. We should not be concerned only or mainly with ourselves or families. Every citizen should have a right to privacy and to keep private, their personal affairs. That is why I welcome the Bill in general as a step in that direction, although I believe that it has some flaws. We must not restrict or impede the responsible end of our press from its proper duties to reveal what the rich and powerful prefer to keep hidden.
I do not intend to quote from cases affecting right hon. and hon. Members for fear of giving them another run, except to say that many have been done over by the daily and Sunday tabloids, not for doing anything illegal or for engaging in activities which remotely could be considered
Column 1353to affect their ability to carry out their responsibilities as Members of Parliament, but purely for the sake of titillation cheap thrills, and voyeurism.
It also happens for another reason. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) movingly told the House the reaction of some sections of the press when she put the question to the Prime Minister, on behalf of her voiceless hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), and saying that she had achieved her position only because she had received the help of a millionaire. The Daily Mail, whose editor is ever loyal in recognition of the knighthood he received from the Prime Minister, went to work on my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South. The next day that newspaper ran a piece heavy with smear and innuendo. It said that my hon. Friend was nicknamed Red Dawn--I guess only by Mr. John Deans, the newspaper's political correspondent, under whose, I hope embarrassed, name that report appeared. It made much of the fact that my hon. Friend had been constituency secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he represented a Bristol constituency and revealed--shock, horror--that she was separated from her husband. For added spice, the newspaper told us that he had lost his job for allegedly taking a swing at the headmaster of the school in which he worked. The newspaper said that my hon. Friend shares a house in Bristol with another woman. The inference was clear, as were the newspaper's attempts to involve my hon. Friend's son.
What on earth have those issues to do with the question that my hon. Friend asked on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley?
A legitimate follow-up to the issue raised by my hon. Friend would have been for the Daily Mail and other newspapers to consider how my hon. Friend and other women Members achieve election and the extra and special problems that they face in this place.
Opposition Members know only too well how the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and, of course, the sewer Sun hound and villify elected trade union leaders and shop stewards who are involved in official legal disputes. Any tittle- tattle makes a good enough stick with which to beat them and seek to blacken their names. None of it has the remotest connection to the issues over which the strike or dispute is taking place.
It is the right of every citizen to have kept private the private aspects of their lives. The Bill, especially if amended, will help. We must clarify the question of legal aid. Without a clear entitlement to legal aid, only the well-heeled will be able to afford to take action and face the possibility of losing, and having to pick up crippling costs. Taking a case to a county court is not an attractive proposition because I understand that it is proposed to limit the amount of damages that can be awarded in the county court to £25,000.
I know that at least one of my hon. Friends--grossly libelled by the Daily Mirror, I am sorry to say--had to back off from legal action because, apart from the certainty of success in the courts, he dared not risk action because he could not meet the costs that he would face if, however perversely, the jury went against him. That is an argument not against a jury but for legal aid.
Column 1354I can understand the hon. Member for Winchester wanting to protect the press from damages awarded by juries, but I believe that he has not addressed the problem correctly. In today's debate, many hon. Members have said that it is not the press that deserves or needs protection but the citizen, the man and woman in the street. Much of the press is rich and powerful and most citizens are not. Perhaps, though I doubt it, punitive damages would persuade the sleaze sheets to start cleaning up their act. Juries are made up of a random cross-section of women and men who are better able to reflect the hurt and harm caused by irresponsible publications and to award financial damages to match the seriousness of the offence. I accept that not all offences can be categorised, but this is a sector in which juries come into their own. On the basis of facts put before them and guidance on the law, they make such judgments every day. We must not prevent responsible investigative journalism. I exclude Mr. Andrew Neil, who is editor of the Sunday Times, from that description following the report into the Thames Television programme, "Death on the Rock". Journalists should not be prevented from exposing people who hold high and influential positions. There is a place in journalism and democracy for some of the work done by publications such as Private Eye. The Bill acknowledges that fact and offers protection for the press through the public interest defence. No public interest defence or argument put before a jury will save the Murdochs of this world if they pray that in aid in the course of sleaze.
No responsible editor or journalist has anything to fear from the Bill, which I hope will be given a Second Reading so that we can improve it in Committee.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : The Bill is a long overdue reform of the relationship between the press and people. Our great nation has always nurtured and defended its freedom carefully. Since the time of Caxton, printers have sought further freedom to publish freely held opinions, and even subversion, but above all they have sought freedom to uncover wickedness, depravity and injustice in public life. One has only to cast one's mind back over the history of John Wilkes and the gagging writs to remember how that freedom has been fought for and cherished. I do not believe that the Bill will introduce the concept of a gagging writ. It is a mark of a free society that we have a free and unfettered press. One of the newest and most glaring developments in modern Russia has been the rash of free-thinking and critical articles that have appeared under glasnost and perestroika.
The debate must move from the relationship of the press to the Government establishment to that between the press and the individual. The most important and powerful media of reporting in the 20th century is television. Among newspapers, the most revealing items have been conveyed by photograph. The camera did not exist in the formative centuries when the concept of a free press was developed. The camera can be very revealing--we are told that it never lies, except when in the hands of a dictator or in the strange magnetic conditions of the rock of Gibraltar. The camera has become the instrument most complained about in our press of today. One need only cast one's mind back to the publication by one tabloid newspaper of a picture of a heavily pregnant princess on a
Column 1355beach taken by an ultra-powerful telescopic lens to understand the problem. What was newsworthy about that incident? It was widely known that the princess was pregnant. Further, it was known that she was on holiday. What else but a prurient curiosity was satisfied by the photograph?
To move the focus from the rich and supposedly famous, what of the photography of families in the north-east who were grieving over the loss of relatives on Piper Alpha? What of the villagers of Lockerbie who were unable to contain their grief, yet at the same time were met as they carried on their ordinary business by a solid wall of cameramen? In those cases people suffered grotesquely as a result of intrusive press reporting. It is unfortunate that whenever a figure of even moderate public standing is reported for a minor misdemeanour it is apparently obligatory for his or her family to be subjected to what is known in the trade as door-stepping. We readily agree with the concept of press freedom, but we have a right to qualify it when it involves innocent people having to hide indoors for days with the curtains drawn.
There is no right of privacy in this country. However, we are signatories to the European convention on human rights. The Minister made much of article 8 of the convention and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) explained that that article should be read in conjunction with article 10 and we must try to achieve a balance. We know that article 8 states :
"Everyone has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence."
I thought that the Minister said that those were cogent reasons why we should not enact something analogous to article 8 into English law, yet we know that we already protect under our law the freedom enshrined in article 10. If the Minister was referring to balance, I would agree with him. However, why are not articles 8 and 10, and even the whole European convention on human rights, enacted into English law? I have argued in the House that the rights of children and parents in the European convention on human rights should be enacted in English law. I am happy to repeat that request for the House to consider in future.
It is particularly strange that in the present circumstances those rights are available to Englishmen, Scotsmen and Irishmen if they go to the European Court of Human Rights after having exhausted the English legal system, but those rights are not available in English courts. The provisions cannot be enforced in our law courts. They are meaningless and that is a bad indictment of our much-prized legal system.
The Minister also referred to the interface between defamation and privacy. The formative case in the law of defamation is that of Princess Youssoupoff and Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Lord Justice Slesser set a two-part test in that case which states :
"not only is the matter defamatory if it brings the plaintiff into hatred, ridicule or contempt by reason of some moral discredit but also if it tends to make the plaintiff be shunned or avoided." The second part of the test was that the allegation must be untrue. The Minister and others have said that the damage of defamation is the same as the damage of privacy, but that is not quite right. Let us consider the test set by Lord Justice Slesser. He said that a comment must be untrue. That is the distinguishing feature in defamation. He said damage applies if the plaintiff is brought
Column 1356"into hatred, ridicule or contempt by reason of some moral discredit."
Why cannot the same test be introduced into the law of privacy? He also said :
"if it tends to make the plaintiff be shunned or avoided." It has always been a feature of our English legal system that there must be damage before one can recover in the courts. If there is publication of something that a person did lawfully in his own home, but which in some way is unusual-- perhaps very unusual or perhaps a particularly colourful previous sex life- -it is not unreasonable to suggest that it might make the plaintiff be shunned or avoided. There is clear damage there and I do not see why there should not be some provision, perhaps through an amendment in the Bill, for compensation.
Some of my hon. Friends have told me that they will vote against the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is one. They claim to be libertarians, but that means allowing people free rein so long as their activities are not dangerous to, or do not inhibit the freedom of others. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) referred to the test of Oliver Wendell Holmes about the use of a fist. If a man in public life has an unusual or exciting sex life, why should that be referred to publicly?
The point that I would have made--but for the assistance of my hon. Friends --when I interrupted the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was that what is of interest to the public about the hon. Member is his competence as a Member of this House. Whatever he may have done in the past, whatever his bank balance or whatever the other features of his life, as long as they do not affect his competence to sit in the House and make decisions on behalf of the public, it is of no interest to the rest of us what he may have done in his own time--on the Greek islands or anywhere else. Good luck to him, because I am sure that, if the spotlight were turned, most of the population would come in the same category.
It may be that these matters are of interest to the public because of its natural lurid curiosity, but are they in the public interest? That is what this Bill deals with. My submission would be that they may have been of public interest but they are not in the public interest. From our post bags, we know that individuals can live the most exotic private lives, but that is not reported, because they are not famous cricketers, union bosses or politicians.
The hon. Member for Hillhead commented on bank balances. One of the most competent and revered Prime Ministers in the history of this country was Disraeli. Yet it is well known from his biographies that he avoided bankruptcy on a number of occasions by the skin of his teeth. It did not, however, make him any worse a Prime Minister. The knowledge of what was in his bank balance, in fact, may have been damaging to him during his career. Is not the man with a massive overdraft--which is publicly known--more prone to bribery and corruption? Is not the man who is extremely rich and has a colossal bank balance in danger of being kidnapped or of suffering other extortionate practices? Barely a week goes by without a new victim of this intrusive curiosity being publicly shamed. The retiring chairman of the Press Council admits to feeling
"sick at heart when I read yet another revelation which exposes people to great hurt."
Even newspapers know in their hearts that often they go too far. The former editor of The Star, Mr. Lloyd Turner, said in December :
Column 1357"We have gone too far and I include myself in that. When I was at The Star I did go too far. That was a mistake."
We know and the press know that that evil exists. The Press Council knows it, but, being a toothless paper tiger, it can do nothing about it.
I shall return to the photograph of the Princess of Wales on the private beach. When the Press Council condemned that photograph and the Sun for photographing it, the Sun republished it under a banner headline, which said :
"This is what the row's all about folks."
What greater contempt can anyone show for the powers, or supposed powers, of the Press Council? For their part the public condemn the press for going too far. The Press Council and its supposed powers are relatively unknown to the public. Louis Blom-Cooper QC, who has just taken over as chairman of the Press Council, said last year in a telling remark :
"To any extent that people have any view of the Press Council, it will be highly coloured and culled from one rather inaccurate press report."
Is that not a telling comment that by implication even the Press Council regards most press reports as being inaccurate?
In answer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) said about Mr. Blom-Cooper's views on legislation, I must tell him that an article in The Daily Telegraph in May 1988, made it clear that Mr. Blom- Cooper did not regard the need for legislation as inherently objectionable. The Government have expressed their dissatisfaction, too. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department said in February last year that, if the press did not regulate itself satisfactorily, the Government might consider how proper standards could be enforced.
The only reason that I could divine from the Minister's speech today against the introduction of such standards is that it would be legally complicated. The concept of negligence was legally complicated and many lawyers thought that it was far too difficult to define until the leading case of Donaghue v. Stevenson. The law on that ethereal concept of negligence has been derived from a series of common law decisions from that day to this. Negligence is now one of the greatest areas of the law of tort.
Although I welcomed what my hon. Friend said in February, I do not believe that it is a proper role for the Government to control the press. I agree with the Labour Members that such control would be sinister. It is the proper role of the House, as representative of the people, to seek to control the excesses of the press in the interest of the public. Other free societies, such as France and the United States, have privacy laws, and I see no reason why such laws should not be introduced in Britain. The Minister signally failed to answer that point when it was raised earlier and he passed over it quickly in his speech.
The only difficulty that I can foresee is that of legal definition. As the Minister has said, some time may be needed for the law of precedent to be established. The way in which the Bill is drafted, however, could do a great deal to assist the law of precedent. In that context I shall quote the words of a leading and distinguished Queen's counsel, for whom I have the highest regard, Richard Alexander, who said :
"The strongest criticism of any suggested law of privacy has invariably been that such a law would be too vague and
Column 1358leave too much to the discretion of the judges. I always thought that this view underestimates the ability of the Common Law to develop both purposively and with common sense. The law of confidence, evolved to cover situations as different as commercial secrets and information held by members of the security services, is judge-made law.
In some countries and in much of North America, a right of privacy exists. Some 20 years ago now, I was sent to observe a case in Paris where a claim was brought against an English newspaper for breach of the droit d'intimite . Photographers using telephoto lenses had taken photographs of Brigitte Bardot in her private garden. In pursuing her complaint, her advocate eloquently declared : Unlike General de Gaulle, my client has not given herself to the nation.' He established that she had the right to private life and recovered damages.
We, by contrast, have no law which would allow redress if, for example, an aeroplane flew low over a house and thus enabled photographs to be taken of people pursuing their private lives. Yet our judges could shape the development of such a law in just the same way as the French judges can set the boundaries of droit d'intimite This Bill may well be capable of improvement, or may need some amendment ; but the principles it seeks to protect should now become part of our law."
Lord Ross said in his minority report to the Younger committee : "With all respect to my colleagues I find these reasons" about uncertainties in the law--
"singularly unconvincing. In the first place uncertainty in the law is not unusual."
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he is damaging the possibility of the Bill reaching Committee because of the way in which he is conducting himself. I ask him to resume his seat.
Mr. Devlin : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his advice because he is a distinguished and elder parliamentarian. I am about to draw my remarks to their rightful close and I shall do so in the next few seconds.
The common law of England is, as it always has been, capable of adapting to and defining new concepts. If my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) will allow me to offer advice to him, I will gladly serve on the Committee. I support the Bill and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : I want to address my remarks specifically to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) because it may be that the future of the Bill rests uniquely in his hands. I intend to speak only for a couple of minutes. I have reservations about the Bill because of my contact with journalists, with whom the hon. Member for Derby, North may also have contacts. I am concerned about the way in which injunctions can be used to prevent journalists from carrying out their legitimate activities. I have discussed the matter with lawyers and they conclude that there are conditions in which stories may be lost. The problem is that although, on one hand, I want to defend the interests of those journalists, I realise, that there is abuse. We must draw a balance and the only way in which we can establish that balance is in Committee. If the Bill goes into Committee, I shall vote against it, as will the hon. Gentleman, but I want the Bill to go to Committee because no damage will be done by that. It will merely help us to establish where we believe the balance should be.
I shall resume my seat after making one request. The hon. Gentleman may rise to his feet in a minute and he can,
Column 1359in effect, talk out the Bill. If he does that, he will deny people such as myself and others who have reservations about the Bill the opportunity to promote the important debate that will inevitably take place in Committee. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is an element of public concern and he knows that there is an element of concern in the journalistic profession, but let us be given the opportunity to consider these matters. There are many further stages at which we can destroy the Bill if we wish. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if all my concerns about press freedom are not met, I shall be among those who wish to destroy the Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman is in the unique position today to be able to destroy it. I, together with most hon. Members, appeal to him not to do that and to let us at least be given the opportunity to examine the whole subject in Committee.
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, South) : It was odd that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) should make such comments. I seem to recollect that, when I was here some time ago to support the Licensing (Amendment) Bill, he spoke at such considerable length that several of my hon. Friends came to the conclusion that he was filibustering, but I did not seek to say that he was acting in a way that was out of order. I am sure that if you, Madam Deputy Speaker, feel that I am out of order at any time you will bring me to heel. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I accept that the matter raises strong feelings among many hon. Members, but I hope that he will accept that there are differing views about what--if anything--should be done and how the press should be regulated. So far in the debate, we have heard only one speech setting out the case against the Bill, which was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). I have several points to make that should be placed on record to explain why I do not want the House to proceed with the Bill.
Mr. Knight : I am also aware that there are hon. Members who do not want the Bill to go to Committee because of other Bills further down the line, but I am not here for that reason. I am here because I disagree with the Bill. It is a bad Bill and I cannot see any way to make it work, even if it were amended in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) spoke for 38 minutes outlining why we should support the measure, so it is only fair for the House to listen to my speech. I am not saying that I shall speak for 38 minutes--and, in fact, I do not have that time--but the case against the Bill deserves to be expounded today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester on his success in the ballot, but I qualify those congratulations. He was twelfth in the ballot last year and I believe that the time has come for the House to examine its procedures and to consider whether perhaps, an hon. Member who comes in the top 20 should be disqualified the following year so that other hon. Members have a fair chance. My congratulations to my hon. Friend are also qualified because, as I have said, I cannot support the Bill.
Column 1360I have nothing personal against my hon. Friend and he may recollect that I warmly supported the Bill that he introduced last year and which got through both Houses.
The matter of privacy has a long history. The Minister spoke about 1961 when the late Lord Mancroft introduced his measure. Similar measures were introduced by Alex Lyon in 1967 and by Brian Walden in 1969. The important point about the Brian Walden Bill was that it led to the setting up of a Committee on privacy under the chairmanship of the late Sir Kenneth Younger. That Committee reported in 1972. Some hon. Members seem to have had difficulties in fully appreciating all the arguments, and that is due to the difficulty of obtaining the Younger report. I went to the Library and found that the report, which is Cmnd. 5012, was published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I made inquiries at the Vote Office and was told that the report was long out of print. It took me some time to track down a copy. Initially, I was told that the Library did not have a copy, but then I found that it had one copy which, I understand, is kept in a brown paper bag out of sight of hon. Members because the Library is afraid of losing it. It does us no credit that hon. Members have to spend time in the Library photocopying a long document so that they may consider all the points that are relevant to the debate. The one positive side of this debate is that we now appreciate that where an unresolved issue has gone on for many years the Vote Office should keep some available copies of any Command Papers so that hon. Members can avail themselves of the evidence that was considered in the past.
Although 17 years old, the Younger report, as I think my hon. Friend the Minister said, is the only substantial report about an examination of the law on privacy in Britain. Therefore, the House is entitled to ask what that committee said about the matter. My hon. Friends the Members for Winchester and for Stafford (Mr. Cash) skimmed over the majority comments in that report, preferring to quote from the minority report.
Mr. Knight : I shall come to that. I accept what my hon. Friend says. He did quote a paragraph from the conclusion. However, he did not go into the general thrust of the Younger report. All the way through, the report warns about the risks of placing excessive reliance on the law to protect privacy, especially with regard to the press. The committee argued against any general right of privacy in our domestic law, and the House is entitled to ask why it did that. The report said that a general right of privacy would be uncertain in scope and would have unpredictable implications. That is exactly the position with this Bill. The House has to decide who is right--my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester or the compilers of the Younger report. We are entitled to examine whether the Younger report was as thorough as it should have been. In paragraph 6, page 2 of the report, there is a call for evidence. It says :
"Once our terms of reference had been clarified, we issued invitations for evidence : to the public at large by advertising extensively in 44 national and regional newspapers,".
Page 3 of the report says :
"As a result of suggestions from various quarters the list of addresses of this letter was eventually increased to a total of 225, ".
Column 1361I did not hear my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester speak about having undertaken that sort of research. It is all very well to refer to opinion polls and to say that 60 per cent. of people think that something should be done. I hazard a guess that many of those who were approached and gave answers in the opinion poll are the very people who buy some of the newspapers about which we have heard--the Sun and the Daily Mirror. Because of the circulation figures of those newspapers that must be so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred to the committee's conclusion. He is quite right that the committee said :
"We have concluded that, on balance, there is no need at present for a general law of privacy."
My hon. Friend was not entirely fair to the committee's view, therefore, when he sought to take that to mean that, if the committee had reported last week, it would have reached a different conclusion. He cannot say that on the evidence because, throughout the report, the committee made it clear that it felt that the best way of dealing with the press was not by legislation, but by effective self-regulation.
That brings me to the point that a number of hon. Members have made about self-regulation. Although I oppose the Bill, I do not claim that there is no problem. Of course, there is a problem. Hon. Members have referred to cases involving disaster victims, the separation of spouses and bereaved families who find their pictures plastered across newspapers and are interviewed on television. There is a particularly odious form of television interviewing technique. When the person who is being interviewed shows signs of distress, the interviewer will suddenly stop and say nothing. The instinct of a person who is not accustomed to being interviewed in front of a television camera is to go on, so his or her distress becomes worse. I remember seeing a documentary on television four or five years ago in which that technique, which I deplore, was used. The person was encouraged by the interviewer's silence to open up, the distress became worse and the interview ended in tears. More can therefore be done in the area of self-regulation.
My next point was raised by some Opposition Members. I have little sympathy for flamboyant and outrageous characters, particularly in the pop music business, who make a point of exploiting their eccentricities and then cry foul when the press starts to pry into their private lives. People who behave in that way and are in public life forgo the privacy that we all hope and expect to see applied to the private individual.
I do not oppose all change. Some action is necessary. The House is entitled to hear what I think is the answer to the problem. We should be considering a sensible and reasoned way to put matters right. Legislation should not be the first and only option ; there are others.
Let us consider the Press Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) shouted out, "It is a joke" when my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the Press Council. That caused much laughter among Conservative Members. I do not entirely disagee with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. The council has been ineffective in some areas and certain things can be done, but let us consider what is now happening to the Press Council. In an article in The Observer of 22 January this year, under the heading