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Mr. Renton : The vintage speech.

Mr. Worthington : If the Minister were to look in "Roget's Thesaurus" for synonyms for vintage, clapped-out would be one of them. What shall we hear in his speech? We shall hear that some newspapers are deplorable, but that we must wait for the Press Council to get its act together. He will say that the Government may have to act one day, but not yet, and that there is a new chairman of the Press Council, so he must be given a chance. But patience and moderation do not work with some personalities. The school bully does not recognise reason. Patience and moderation do not work against the sheer power of market forces in which the tabloid newspapers are trapped. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he will recognise that matters have gone too far. The sponsors of the Bill recognise that matters have gone too far and the Minister must do better than he did last week, when his speech reminded me of "Alice in Wonderland".

We must take action to prevent ordinary people from being abused. Such abuse is not a necessary evil of a free society, as the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) said in 1983 when he was Minister of State, Home Office. The much respected Hugo Young of The Guardian said this week :

"The very function of journalism is being defiled by the reckless transgressions of the biggest operators."

No good newspapers will be affected by this legislation. Good journalists have nothing to fear.

Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman referred to the respected journalist Hugo Young. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in Hugo Young's column the week before last he said that if newspapers went on the way they were


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now, politicians would soon come to be believed more than journalists. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that would be a good or bad thing?

Mr. Worthington : There we have a trailer for the Minister's cheery reply.

In any questioning democratic society there is the expectation that people will legitimately be sceptical and cynical about politicians, and that is quite right. Journalists, some of whom consider themselves to be on the side of the people, have achieved such a reputation that they rank below politicians in the public opinion polls. I see no reason for that state of affairs, and I should like to end it.

The Scottish editor of The Sun, Mr. Jack Irvine, recently wrote to The Times Educational Supplement Scotland of a journalist's obligation to check his facts and to endeavour to produce a balanced report. Mr. Irvine has it absolutely right when he says that no journalist who did that would ever appear before a press commission. Those who do not should be obliged to give the right of reply to those about whom they have been wrong.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. In view of the large number of hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye, I appeal for brief speeches.

10.21 am

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : I hope that I shall set an example with my brief speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on two grounds. First, I extend the traditional congratulations on his good fortune in coming high enough in the ballot to have a chance of introducing legislation which may be passed by this House and, in due course, by the other place--a good fortune that I enjoyed some years ago. Secondly, the whole House will congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the reasoned and reasonable way in which he advanced his argument. Those arriving in the Chamber with neutral opinions--I am a romantic, and assume that that happens from time to time--will have found themselves persuaded by his eloquence. I do not regard the Bill as a change of law. It is merely a change of structure to enable us to establish what is already the law of the land--that people shall not be traduced or libelled in public print. That must remain the law of the land. In practice, however, the right under that law can be exercised only by a minority--arguably a small minority--of the population. We have created a structure and said that this is the law, yet in every real sense we have denied people the opportunity of exercising their rights under that law.

The Bill sets out what should be a quick and relatively simple system to replace a system that does not work. Of course it will be possible to point to inevitable grey areas here and there ; it has already been suggested, for example, that the process may take a little longer than envisaged. We accept that, but we nevertheless need to establish the structure. We know for certain that the Press Council does not deal, and has not dealt, with matters properly or--perhaps a greater criticism--even fairly and that the time for waiting for it to reform itself must surely be over.


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One question that we must all ask ourselves is how much influence newspapers have in moulding opinion. After all, if they have no influence at all, we might all be spending our Friday mornings doing something else. A survey conducted in 1986 showed that 50 per cent. of people did not believe what they saw on television ; only 25 per cent. believed what they read in the tabloids and only 2 per cent. believed what they read in what might be termed the saucy end of the tabloid market. That was before the emergence of Sunday Sport, so we can only guess at what the percentage might be now. The fact remains that people who have been libelled, who consider themselves to have been seriously misdescribed, understandably believe that the message in the newspaper goes out to a large number of people by whom it is believed in whole or in part.

The Bill has already been described in some quarters as an attack on press freedom. I do not see how one can accept that argument unless one considers that freedom to be the absolute freedom to write anything, any time, about anybody. I do not think that any hon. Member in the Chamber believes that. I reiterate that, in theory, the law already provides for the defence.

No responsible editor or journalist would object to correcting matters of fact. Some time ago the Guild of British Newspaper Editors announced that it supported the principle of always correcting errors. We are talking again about errors of fact and not about opinion. A newspaper may describe one of my constituents in a variety of ways that suggest a strong opinion but may not adduce false facts in doing so. That distinction is critical.

One of our main purposes in the House is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. In a sense, all of us are here not to protect the powerful, who do not need our protection, but to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The Brazilian philosopher Frere said that to be neutral in the battle between the weak and the powerful is to side with the powerful.

This is a small Bill, simple of intent but necessary and overdue. It has my full support as a sponsor ; I wish it godspeed and I hope that we shall shortly send it on its way.

10.26 am

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : I hope to follow the commendable example set by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) by being brief. I am a fellow sponsor of the Bill and, like him, I begin by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), not only on the drafting and presentation of the Bill but on the very acceptable manner in which he presented his arguments to the House.

Throughout our history, it has been an essential and paramount role of the House of Commons to check from time to time the imbalances of power and the abuses of power in society. In previous centuries we had to curb the powers of the monarchy and the barons. In the past decade, we have repeatedly been asked to pass legislation changing the balance of power between trade union bosses and others. If there is one striking imbalance of power in our society today, it is the growing power of the press barons, and it is entirely right that we should address


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ourselves to whether their power has become excessive in relation to the rights of the ordinary citizens, whose rights we are here to protect.

It is no coincidence that two hon. Members who have drawn top places in the ballot for private Member's Bills this Session have chosen issues relating to the press as their subject. I, too, believe that the power of the press barons has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.

The ordinary concern that has been expressed, and will be expressed later in the debate, about the power of press ownership will be exacerbated when we debate the White Paper on broadcasting next week. It appears to me that that White Paper contains open opportunities for that power to be further extended into other areas of mass communications.

When we consider two events that have happened in recent days, it is clear why so many of us object to the cross-fertilisation of ownership between broadcasting and the press. Let us take "Death on the Rock". There is no doubt in my mind that the coverage of, and the attack on, that Thames Television programme by Mr. Murdoch's Sunday Times was related to his desire to weaken the prestige of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the existing programme contractors. Unquestionably there was a correlation between the two. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is not here as I mean no attack on him, but the only story occupying the front pages of two of yesterday's tabloid papers, Today and The Sun --wiping out everything else in this country and the world--was the news that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby had been sacked from a position on the Opposition Front Bench which most of us did not know he possessed. It is malign and dangerous that newspapers of that power and circulation should give such prominence to trivial stories for one reason only--that it gives publicity to the launch of the Sky channel.

I know that the Minister of State, Home Office, is also responsible for broadcasting. The House will have to be extremely vigilant over the next two years or so when legislating on broadcasting matters. I am very glad that the Home Office has already backtracked slightly from the text of the White Paper, but it has a long way to go and both sides of the House will come down on the Government on this matter.

Mr. Renton : I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I must correct him on his point about backtracking. That is not right. We made it absolutely plain in the White Paper on broadcasting that we were laying down a set of principles to militate against cross-media ownership and a concentration of ownership. However, we also made it clear that they were only principles and that we welcomed thoughts and comments from outside to enable us to add more facts and more flesh to those principles. That is the course on which we are engaged at the moment.

Mr. Steel : I am delighted to hear that. I have just given the Minister some facts and illustrations which I hope will assist him in that desirable process. However, he has still a long way to go and we shall continue to assist him to move in that direction.

I said that I would be brief and I have digressed slightly from the immediate purpose of the Bill. We all welcome the new vigour of the Press Council and its new chairman.


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The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie went through many of the defects of the Press Council's composition and procedure and there is no need for me to repeat them. Many serious newspapers suggest that we should not advance the Bill and we should not legislate because we should give the new chairman of the Press Council a chance. I have great admiration for him and I wish him well, but the message that must go out from the House today to him and his colleagues in the press and the Press Council is that time is running out and we, as elected Members of Parliament, are not prepared to sit by and watch the constant abuses of the citizenry of this country by the press and do nothing about it.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie referred to the Younger committee on privacy. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will correct me if I am wrong, but I recollect that the Younger committee came into being partly because at that time there were three private Members' Bills about the press. The Younger committee concluded :

"on balance there is no need at present for a general law of privacy."

I think that the words "on balance" and "at present" were very important. Since that committee reported in 1972, the excesses of the press have become worse. That is why I am attracted by the proposal in the Bill for a statutory Press Commission to investigate and check the behaviour of the press.

I give the House two examples. I was appalled to hear that at Lockerbie some representatives were running round offering children money if they would obtain photographs of their dead friends. Such behaviour is utterly unacceptable to the House and something should exist to stop it.

If I may make a personal reference, some years ago two journalists appeared in my village pub, which is just across the road from my house, and started asking questions about my family. The publican very sensibly said, "If you have come here hoping to get any gossip about the Steel family, you are wasting your time." She got the response, "Would it make any difference if we showed you our cheque book?" Her reply was, "Yes, you can get out now." But not everyone is that strong minded and we have to be vigilant about such behaviour by the press.

Moreover, there is a new development about which I should warn the House, which is sub-contracting in the press so that newspapers can say perfectly honestly, "It was not us." Freelance agencies, which are not employed by newspapers, go round offering money, knowing that if the offer of money and the plying of drink obtain a story they will be well rewarded by the newspaper in question, and if they do not succeed, the newspaper can disclaim any responsibility. A press commission should look into such behaviour.

There are many objections to leaving matters as they are. One is that the delays in getting redress from newspapers are colossal. In my own case, of which many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, it took one year and three months to settle out of court an action against The Sun and the News of the World. Justice delayed is justice denied, and one benefit of the system that the Bill proposes with a Press Commission is that such cases would be removed from the courts. If redress can be achieved quickly through a press commission, the administration of justice in this country might be pushed along a little more swiftly.


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There is also the issue of the excessive costs. It is very expensive to pursue a case of defamation. In my case at the very last minute there was a good deal of argument about the enormous legal costs. The argument was not about the cost of the settlement but about the legal costs. Of course the costs incurred by the other side must also be considered. I agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), who mentioned the Green Paper on contingency fees, and perhaps that will be relevant to our consideration of the Bill. In the meantime, the proposal in the Bill for an extension of legal aid to cases of defamation is sound, as is the proposal that the Press Commission should be able to insist on what is called similar prominence of any correction in the newspapers. Far too often, as we see in the Press Council's adjudications, some glaring and obvious prominent wrong is put right by an obscure paragraph tucked away in a subsequent edition of the paper.

Even as a sponsor of the Bill--I had nothing to do with its drafting--I do not pretend that it is absolutely perfect as it stands. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie will have to accept an amendment in Committee to make sure that we eliminate trivial complaints. The Bill as drafted is also wide open to the green ink brigade to raise trivial complaints against newspapers, but I am sure that that can be dealt with in Committee.

The Bill is well worth a Second Reading and further examination in Committee. If we keep up the pressure on the press to put its own house in order, the Bill will have served its purpose, but I very much hope that it will succeed in becoming legislation.

10.37 am

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : When I first joined the publishing house of which I am a director, there was in the reception area--I think that there still is today--a large poster stating :

"This is a Printing office

Crossroads of civilization.

Refuge of all the arts, against the vagaries of time

Armoury of fearless truth against whispering rumour

Incessant trumpet of trade

From this place words may fly abroad

Not to perish on waves of sound

Not to vary with the writers hand

But fixed in time having been verified in proof

Friend you stand on sacred ground

This is a Printing office."

Many publishers would like to put forward such a notion. I speak as a publisher and as a liveryman of the Stationers and Newspaper Makers of the City of London. That is the sort of notion that we like to put forward and that the newspapers romantically put forward about themselves.

Hugh Cudlipp, writing a book about 50 years of the Daily Mirror, wrote :

"This book is the story of the newspaper with the world's greatest daily circulation--London's Daily Mirror Millions cherish that tabloid journal, swear by it, regard it as their daily Bible ; others loathe it, curse it, reject its news and views as the modern works of Satan."

I suspect that for many years--when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and others were first involved in journalism--newspapers were like that. However, things then changed. Newspapers had to start to compete with television and commercial radio. That had a double effect because they had to compete for both


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entertainment value and advertising revenue. As we all know, a large percentage of the cover price of newspapers is subsidised by advertising revenue for which newspapers now have to compete. As the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said, many people now read newspapers as much for entertainment as for news, and often the two aspects become blurred. A French newspaper editor conducted a survey of the way in which the French press presented the British royal family. It is not very different from the way in which the British press presents them. He produced the following statistics : between 1958 and 1972, French newspapers reported that the Queen was pregnant 92 times, had 149 accidents, nine miscarriages, took the pill 11 times, abdicated 63 times, was on the point of breaking up with Prince Philip 73 times, said to be fed up 112 times and on the verge of a nervous breakdown 32 times, and so the statistics continued. I suspect that the British press does not contain such a high number of reported problems, but it is not too different from the French. Those of us who watch the difficulties caused by the press to the Princess of Wales are amazed that she and other members of the royal family have the patience to put up with some of the innuendos and lies reported by Fleet street. According to Fleet street, she is constantly suffering from numerous bouts of slimmers' disease, severe post-natal depression and continuous violent rows with her husband, the Queen, Prince Philip and the Princess Royal, and gets ticked off for her misbehaviour on formal occasions.

When the press cannot legitimately include any innuendo in its story, it makes it up. One example appeared in the Daily Mirror --a newspaper that is often somewhat self-righteous. In 1983, it published a front page exclusive headlined

"Diana and the little old lady"

It began :

"Princess Diana regularly visits an elderly woman who lives in a tiny terraced house. It is one of Diana's best kept secrets and she looked taken aback when she was spotted leaving the house in a London suburb yesterday. She said, I have been to see an old lady friend.' The detective walked with her towards the black painted front door which was unlocked. Diana pushed it open and closed it behind her." That is the type of fairy-tale that we expect about the royal family. The following week, the News of the World published an exposure and correctly reported that Princess Diana had been attending dancing classes in a studio in Chiswick. It appeared that the little old lady was 46-year-old Merle Park, the ballerina who runs the studio.

For those, like myself, who become slightly confused about fact and fiction in relation to the royal family, it becomes more amazing in relation to some of the soap operas on television. I have a confession to make. I sometimes wonder whether I am culturally qualified to be a Member of Parliament. The last time I saw an episode of "Coronation Street" was when I was in my teens and I do not think that I have ever seen an episode of "Neighbours". The way in which Fleet street treats programmes such as "Coronation Street" is amazing. Fleet street creates an off-screen soap opera of the actors' lives. Over a short period, Mr. Peter Adamson, who played Len Fairclough in "Coronation Street", was charged with assaulting two small girls in a swimming pool but later acquitted, Violet Carson, who played Ena Sharples, Jack Howarth, who played Albert Tatlock, and Peter Dudley, who played Bert Tilsey, had died, Doris Speed, who played


Column 561

Annie Walker, suffered a prolonged illness, Pat Phoenix--Elsie Tanner--was stricken with pleurisy and left the series and Anne Kirkbride, who plays Deirdre Barlow was prosecuted for possessing cannabis.

Those facts may have been mildly interesting, but they did not deserve front page stories sprinkled with words such as "shock", "trauma", "drama", "disaster", and "tragedy". Fact and fiction can become merged. For example, one day The Sun's tantalising stories such as

"Big Mac Boy Killed By Laughing Knife Maniac"

and

"Riddle of Wife in Death Ride on M1"

were surpassed by front page headlines such as "Hilda Ogden Mugged." Was that the preview of some future script in which the indomitable Mrs. Ogden would be set upon, or did it refer to an event that had actually taken place? The answer is that Jean Alexander, not Hilda Ogden, had been robbed of a wedding ring. It was not her own ring but the worthless brass prop that she wore in the role of Stan Ogden's wife. Is that worth banner headlines on the front page? Sometimes, the confusion seems to affect the actors. When Peter Adamson, who played Len Fairclough, heard that he was to be written out of the script, he said that he thought that the future story line would suggest that he was having a secret affair. He said of his television death and secret affair devised by his bosses : "It's nothing more than a cheap, ridiculous, smear campaign. Their motive is to blacken my name even further. They want any sympathy the fans had for me to be destroyed--to make the name of Fairclough a dirty word."

The idea that Granada television was plotting a "sex smear campaign" against Mr. Adamson was preposterous, and even if it was doing so against the fictional character of Len Fairclough, it would hardly reflect on Mr Adamson. Fact and fiction merge so that people like me who do not have time to watch such programmes become confused. That may not be too terrible. The question of whether Len Fairclough the character and not Peter Adamson the actor was involved in the "sex smear" on "Coronation Street" may not hurt too many people.

The situation becomes serious, however, when newspapers resort to straight lies. Many hon. Members will recall one such example involving Mrs. Marica McKay, the widow of Sergeant Ian McKay, who was posthumously awarded one of the two Victoria Crosses of the Falklands campaign. When the awards were announced, the Daily Mirror and The Sun carried interviews with the widows of the dead soldiers. The Daily Mirror presented the article as an "exclusive" while The Sun, always wanting to be one ahead, announced that it had a "World Exclusive". That was the newspaper's first lie. Under the headline "The Pride and Heartbreak of Two VCs' Widows"

the story began :

"VC's widow Marica McKay fought back her tears last night and said : I'm so proud of Ian, his name will remain a legend in the history books forever.' Hugging her children at their home in Rotherham, Yorkshire, she said : I'm proud of Ian's Victoria Cross but I'd exchange all the medals in the world to have him back.' " If one were to reflect whether someone in Mrs. McKay's circumstances would say of her dead husband

"his name will remain in the history books forever",

the answer would be no. What had happened was that some secretaries in The Sun's offices were asked to think up


Column 562

quotations of what they would have said in the circumstances and some obliging sub-editor fitted them into the text.

One would have thought that The Sun , found guilty of an obvious fraud, would apologise but it nearly escaped without criticism. The story came to light only because the editor dated the story by the phrase :

"fought back her tears last night."

On the night in question, Mrs. McKay was not at her home in Rotherham but in the Howard hotel in London talking to

representatives of the Daily Mirror. Not a little jealous of its own exclusive, the Daily Mirror in a leader entitled

"Lies, Damned Lies The Sun Exclusives",

castigated The Sun for its cheap fabrication.

The affair was only referred to the Press Council by The Observer's diarist, who encouraged his secretary, Caroline Metcalfe, to complain to the Press Council. It was then that The Sun topped the lot and displayed a loose grasp on reality. Instead of admitting and regretting the falsehood, The Sun attempted to mitigate its action by complaining that its journalists had not been able to talk to Mrs. McKay because she was with the Daily Mirror reporter. The Sun's editor said that the staff were under strict instructions not to allow any harrassment of the widow and went on to describe an unpleasant scene at the Howard hotel. Sadly, it did not occur to anyone at the Press Council to point out that the unpleasant scene at the hotel was almost certainly caused by the appearance The Sun reporters.

I have a little more to say about Mrs. McKay and the way in which she was treated by the Press Council because it was to the Press Council that Caroline Metcalfe, The Observer secretary, addressed her complaint--a case of dog eat dog. How does the Press Council treat these things? How does it respond? The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) had occasion not long ago to make a complaint to the Press Council in which he was successful. He made the complaint against a newspaper called the Midland Chronicle. The Midland Chronicle, in a sensationalised article--so the hon. Member complained--had alleged that several hundred of his constituents who lived on a local estate had been branded as prostitutes, pornographers and wife-swappers.

The complaint was resoundingly upheld by the Press Council which, in one of its most uncompromising adjudications, inflicted the severest censure on the newspaper. On the basis of admissions by the editor, it found that the article had been totally inadequately researched and was a deplorable example of sensationalised journalism of a kind likely to bring the British press into disrepute. That adjudication is among the strongest ever issued by the Press Council, and one would expect that if anyone were satisfied with its performance it would be the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East. On the contrary, however, he was largely dissatisfied with the experience-- for very much the same reasons, I imagine, as those of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). For a variety of reasons, it was more than nine months before the actual hearing, and there was a further delay of six weeks before the decision was announced. Obstruction and delay were occasioned by the Press Council's formulation of the complaint. There was an initial exchange of three letters. The complaints secretary asked repeatedly on what basis the complaint was being made. I


Column 563

should have thought that when a constituent has complained about the people of a whole estate being branded as prostitutes, pornographers and wife-swappers, it would be fairly obvious on what basis the complaint was being made.

The report of the upholding of the complaint was not given prominence comparable with that of the original distortion : the offending newspaper tucked the report of the decision in an inside page although the original story had been a front page lead. We all ought to reflect that those people were fortunate in having the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East as their champion--not everyone would have been so fortunate.

That takes us back to Mrs. McKay and the way in which the Press Council dealt with her. By any account, the reference to an interview that had never taken place, on a matter of some importance, was a straightforward lie. When Mrs. Metcalfe wrote to the Press Council about the Daily Mirror and The Sun she said--and it is the clearest letter--

"I would be grateful if you would regard this as a formal complaint and take the appropriate action."

What reply did she get from the Press Council? This is what the Council said :

"Thank you for your letter which is not being treated at this stage as a formal complaint but as an inquiry.

It is not clear from your letter whether you wish to complain against The Sun, the Daily Mirror, or both. Could you clarify this?

I would ask you to bear in mind that a complaints committee would be no better placed than yourself to assess the truth of two conflicting newspaper stories unless it is provided with independent evidence supporting one version. If you wish to pursue a complaint, would you be able to provide such information for the complaints committee?"

The original letter was clearly expressed as a formal complaint. The Press Council, unhelpfully, treated it as an inquiry to be parried with a request for clarification of the obvious. The Press Council, with all its claims to respect and obedience in Fleet Street, indicated that it was no better placed than an ordinary member of the public when it comes to discovering what goes on in newspaper offices.

The other point that emerges is that it is quite clear that the Press Council does not treat these as matters for investigation. It says that it investigates cases, but it makes it the accuser's job to prove the story. In the context of the case I have just mentioned that would not be very difficult. One has only to pick up the telephone and ask Mrs. Mckay whether she actually made the complaint. In fact, in the end it was not the Press Council which eventually proved conclusively that what had been said was a lie ; it was The Observer, which managed to get in touch with Mrs. Mckay, who said,"I have never spoken to The Sun --I know that, they know that, and you can imagine what I think of the paper." So eventually the truth came out.

Two points need to be made about the Press Council--points which, perhaps, have not been made with sufficient force in this debate. First, the constitution of the Press Council states that its first objective is the preservation of the estabished freedom of the British press. As a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, I appreciate that all organisations of this kind throughout history have been set up to protect their members' ancient rights and privileges, and clearly that is what the Press Council is seeking to do in another guise. So the Press Council, which has no powers beyond


Column 564

the force of its own arguments, devotes much of its publicity to resisting those who would thrust legal powers upon it.

So far as I am aware, in recent history there has been only one significant study of the press. I refer to the report of the Third Royal Commission on the Press, which was published in 1977. That commission concluded that, unhappily, it was certain that the Press Council had so far failed to persuade the knowledgeable public that it dealt satisfactorily with complaints against newspapers, notwithstanding that this has come to be seen as its main purpose. That was in 1977. The McKay incident occurred in the mid-1980s, and I am sure that other hon. Members will wish to refer to other cases. What is the best way forward? Legislation is being debated today. It is fair to point out that the Third Royal Commission on the Press in 1977 said :

"We believe that the press should not be subjected to a special regime of law, and that it should neither have special privileges nor labour under special disadvantages compared with the ordinary citizen. That argues against a special measure for ensuring a right of reply. We prefer a non- legal method of securing corrections." That would be fine if one had confidence in the way in which non-legal methods worked.

I believe that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, and at this stage I look upon it wearing my hat as a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers wishing to see the highest standards of press journalism. Wearing my lawyer's wig I will reflect, when the Bill comes back for Report and Third Reading, on whether what it does is enforceable. If it were within the power of the hon. Member proposing the Bill, I would suggest that he might think about referring it to a Select Committee, because one of the other useful things that the Bill could achieve would be for the House to call to account some of the press, the Press Council, the Guild of Journalists and others as to their specific views on this measure. That would be a useful exercise, but it is a matter for the hon. Gentleman.

I enter this caveat, and I give the hon. Gentleman one piece of information, with which I shall conclude. The caveat is that, clearly, journalism is not a profession--it is the exercise by people of the right to free expression. That right being available to all cannot really be withdrawn from some. The last time that the House, so far as I can discover, sought to impose duties upon newspapers as to what they might or might not print in this way was attempted by Cromwell in 1643, when he appointed 27 licensors chosen from "the good and the wise"--schoolmasters, lawyers, ministers of religion and doctors--who ordered books and newspapers containing political errors to be burned by the public hangman. As hon. Members can imagine, that system became a means of fraud and political favouritism and was abolished in 1695. Historical precedents of attempts to regulate the press by law are thus not the happiest. Nevertheless, it is clear that a considerable body of opinion in this country and in the House is perturbed about the way in which the press operates today. There is a widespread view that the Press Council has not been discharging its duty properly, and in those circumstances the Bill is entitled to have a Second Reading.

Finally, I want to share with the House one piece of information that I discovered in my research for this debate. Consistently, and for a very long time, the number


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