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Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : I should like to underline the point that my hon. Friend is making. Some lobby correspondents get the correct story, but deliberately issue it as a false one. I have a good example of that. My hon. Friends who represent Liverpool constituencies sent a letter to the Soviet ambassador asking whether, when Mr. Gorbachev visits Britain, it will be possible for him to visit our city. The letter was sent to most lobby correspondents so that they knew what we were doing. The article in the local paper--in inverted commas and under the name of a lobby correspondent here--says :
"And the MPs also made clear they also wanted Mr. Gorbachev to be made aware of the unjust decision in imposing surcharges on Mr. Hatton and the 48 other councillors'".
Of course, Mr. Hatton was one of the 48 councillors involved, but we never mentioned his name or invited Mr. Gorbachev to see Mr. Hatton, who is no longer in the Labour party--and I am not saying whether that is right or wrong. That part of the article is in inverted commas and appears to be a quote from the letter, but it is untrue. My hon. Friend is right to say that that is the sort of thing with which we must deal.
Mr. Wall : One must give a little flavour of one's experiences with journalists and the way in which they operate. During the period that I was under attack, I went to a party--an entirely non-political party--that was being held by a friend of mine of many years. I was talking with two female neighbours of his in the kitchen and it suddenly dawned on them who I was. They said, "You're the fellow who has been in all the papers." I was a little embarrassed and reluctant and said "I am, but I do not want to discuss politics." One of them said, "Did you know that the Daily Mail sent a reporter to knock on every door in our village"--which is adjacent to mine--"to ask whether anyone knew anything against you or your wife?" When I challenged the Daily Mail about this some weeks later, the reporter merely said "You were clean, weren't you?"
I was given a substantial pay rise by the newspapers, which implied that I was a well-paid Socialist who had a company car. I was quite pleased, but even that had its problems. My colleagues went to the firm's personnel department and demanded the same money as I was getting and all hell broke loose. My bank manager wrote to me and said "If you are earning all that money, and as you have an overdraft with me, why do you not pay the money to us?" My wife wanted to know where I was keeping the other woman.
A reporter telephoned the chief executive of my company, who is a highly successful man and has made an even bigger name for himself recently. He was not sure whether it was the Daily Mail or the Daily Express that telephoned him. The reporter, a fellow trade unionist from the NUJ, asked him, "Why have you not sacked him?" He said, "He is not employed here as a politician but as a houseware buyer. He does his job well enough and we have no reason to interfere with his political life." He then asked the chairman of this £180 million a year company, "Are you a Trotskyist?" That shows the sort of journalist with whom we must deal.
The power of the press is being more and more concentrated. I am sure that in last week's debate attention was drawn to the well-known fact that we have six multi-millionaires running newspapers--Murdoch,
Column 579Maxwell, Lord Stevens, who runs United Newspapers, Viscount Rothermere, who runs the Associated Newspapers Group, Conrad Black and Tiny Rowland. There are also the Guardian group and the Independent group. Six multi-millionaires who represent multinational companies have enormous control and ownership of not only the national press but the local press, magazines, printing, independent television and radio and, tomorrow, satellite television. I am not sure that we shall hear so much opposition to satellite television, given that two fellow hon. Members have achieved salaries of £30,000 a year. Nevertheless, that is an awesome concentration of power. That power is used to defend a system that gives the owners their privileges and income. The Maxwell group says that it supports the Labour party, but its support is limited by the condition that the Labour party adopts and carries out policies according to the interests of Maxwell and the ideas with which he agrees. It is difficult enough if that awesome power is used against a political party, but it is a terrifying power when it is used against the individual. The least that we can do is defend the individual's right of privacy and give him the right of reply.
I believe--this is not Labour party policy--that we must devise a democratic alternative to one-party state control--such as is used against the media in eastern Europe and other countries--and what we have in Britain, which is an unbridled press run by unbridled commercialism and dominated by a handful of multi-millionaires and the large advertisers.
This is my view, not the view of the sponsors of the Bill or of the Labour party. We must move towards public ownership of the printed medium, we should subsidise it publicly and we should allocate money on a basis such as a percentage of the vote that each party receives at the previous general election. We shall never have fairness for the individual until we have such a system. The least that we can do is to support the Bill.
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston) : Every hon. Member who has spoken has his stock of inaccuracies that were either not corrected or corrected too late. Every hon. Member has a stock of stories about objectionable journalists. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) when he said that there was something to worry about, and every speech that I have heard this morning supports that proposition. I asked the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) what the relationship would be between the Press Council and the Press Commission that he proposed. I did not receive a clear answer and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be in the Chamber at the moment. However, I see his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) nodding to the effect that he will convey messages.
I am still puzzled by the roles of the Press Council and the Press Commission as they emerge in the Bill. Many stories were told, including those of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), who referred to examples of thoroughly bad conduct by journalists. But it is important to realise that the examples
Column 580of reporters at Lockerbie trying to obtain information from the relatives of victims and the objectionable investigative journalism to which the hon. Member for Bradford, North referred will not be caught by the Bill. The Bill is confined to the correction of inaccuracies. There will still be a role for a body such as the Press Council with power to investigate more general complaints about the conduct of journalists. I should be worried if the Bill were passed in its present form without alteration of the powers of the Press Council or clarification of the roles of the Press Council and the Press Commissison. The public would be confused by the two competing rights to complain to the Press Council or the Press Commissison.
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham) : My hon. and learned Friend is right. An additional problem is the relationship of the new quasi-judicial body to the libel laws. Has my hon. and learned Friend any views on that?
Mr. Ground : The question of libel and the power to get to the bottom of allegations and to investigate the truth thoroughly are matters that we shall consider in the debate. I shall touch on them later in my speech.
One matter that should be considered if the Bill receives a Second Reading is whether such powers should be given to the Press Council rather than to the Press Commission. I can see a case for giving them to the Press Council, if the House decides that it should continue to exist, but whether it is right to create such powers in an additional body--the Press Commission--is a matter about which I have reservations.
I was concerned to hear the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie refer to providing a second-class form of law for those who have no protection at present. It is attractive, when the present system is inadequate, to do something that is better than nothing. But that is a dangerous principle when we are considering people's rights to which we attach importance. One of my problems about the Press Commission is how it will decide the accuracy and inaccuracy of matters in contention. I am worried about the limitation on the number of witnesses that is proposed and I want to know how the Press Commission is to arrive at the truth when there are matters in contention.
I wonder whether the sponsors of the Bill were encouraged by the number of complaints in France and West Germany, to which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) referred, and whether that has led them to think that it would be an easy task to perform here. I wonder whether a number of part -time members, who would be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off, might find the time off that was available was pretty unreasonable when they had finished considering complaints.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about having time off, but I have never seen him before.
Mr. Ground : That is an objectionable comment and I shall ignore it.
Mr. Ground : It shows the degree of inattention that some hon. Members have shown to our proceedings. I
Column 581resent the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has made. The attention that he has paid to debates may be somewhat at fault.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) : I am sure that, as a lawyer, the hon. and learned Gentleman would rather that all these matters went to court and provided more revenue for lawyers, but if these matters went to court rather than to the commission the result would be long delays, inordinate expense and an uncertain pattern of judgments.
Mr. Ground : I have no objection to creating tribunals for the enforcement of rights. Much of my practice as a barrister is before tribunals--the hon. Gentleman may object, but they, too, provide work for lawyers. That is not the point about which I am concerned. I am concerned about the provision of a satisfactory remedy. I accept that a tribunal with adequate powers would be perfectly adequate for that. But the proposer of the Bill set it up on a second-class basis and we are entitled to wonder whether that is what we want.
The last Royal Commission on the press was surprised by the number of complaints that had been received and by the huge amount of correspondence that the Press Council had had in connection with complaints. In its report in 1977 it said :
"The files also show that a considerable number of letters is often needed before a case can be considered by the Complaints Committee." The commission will be bound to go into a great deal of correspondence and there will be considerable work. The hon. Member for Bradford, North and I have many Asian immigrants in our constituencies and we are aware of the many publications in immigrant languages. Those immigrants show a lively interest in controversial matters, on which they can be quite argumentative at times and on which they often have very different points of view. They would certainly want to be included in any right afforded under the Bill. The commission would therefore need facilities for translating from immigrant languages such as Punjabi, which would further complicate and add to the burden of the commission. I seriously wonder whether the task of the commission has been underestimated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) quoted from the Royal Commission's remarks about the Press Council. Not much has been said in favour of the Press Council today and it is therefore fair and right to record the fact that the Royal Commission report was in some respects quite complimentary about the work of the Press Council. Paragraph 20.3 said :
"Though we make many criticisms in this chapter, we emphasise at the outset that their virtues are great and we record our recognition of the service which the Press Council has given to the community for nearly a quarter of a century."
All hon. Members will have seen huge numbers of corrections of inaccuracies in newspapers--in part they are the result of the work that the Press Council has done or of its presence to adjudicate upon complaints.
The Royal Commission carefully considered the question of the right to reply. I am somewhat surprised that no hon. Member has so far dealt with the reasons why the Royal Commission concluded that it did not want a right of reply in the press. There are sound democratic reasons connected with freedom for that decision.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not intending to
Column 582quote selectively from the 1977 Royal Commission report, and he is making an interesting and constructive speech, but the very paragraph that he quoted went on to talk about the right of reply in the following terms :
"Since the system has worked for a number of years in West Germany, we see no practical reason why it should not do so here. The right provides a prompt remedy, acts as a sanction and promotes accuracy of reporting."
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will concede that that was also the commission's view of the right of reply.
Mr. Ground : I agree that the report was critical of the Press Council in a number of respects and accepted that, if the system worked well in Germany, it could be made to work here, although not necessarily so easily. I accept the principle that if we wanted it to work, it could be made to work here.
Although the Royal Commission was very worried about abuses by the press and the inadequacy of the Press Council, it failed to conclude that we should have such a legal right of reply because it was anxious about the interference that that would involve in the ultimate freedom of the press. It therefore shrank from the idea of any form of intervention in the operations of the press by a third party. That is an important constitutional consideration which the House should be examining. One has only to remember the debates that we have had in the House this week to realise that the idea of appointing Home Office nominees to issue corrections to factual inaccuracies in the press is a constitutional innovation about which we should be very careful. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie back in his seat. I suggest to him that, if the Bill goes further today, we should seriously consider whether the power should be given to the Press Council rather than to a body that will be the creature of the Home Secretary and composed of nominees. That would be constitutionally less objectionable because the Press Council is set up in the tradition of self-regulation which has been an important feature of our constitution and way of doing things for many years.
Difficult questions are involved in determining whether legal aid should be granted for defamation actions. The right course for private clients who have been wronged by newspapers or on the radio is often not to spend their money and time on bringing proceedings. That applies even to those who have money, who have a good case and would get damages. That is a perfectly proper decision for the private individual to make. It is questionable whether legal aid should be granted for defamation cases, given the present availability of legal aid. There are many cases that come before tribunals- -for example, the social security commissioners--for which legal aid is not at present available even though they involve important benefits and professional representation could be extremely beneficial.
Several Governments have shown considerable sympathy for the idea of extending legal aid to the social security commissioners' decisions and to other tribunals. The inspector who decided on the Windscale inquiry recommended that there should be some form of legal aid, or at least public funding, for objectors to a proposal for the processing of nuclear waste. When people have had fears about the use of nuclear power and there have been important questions to be ventilated the objectors have often not had the resources to canvass their objections at an inquiry. Serious suggestions have been made that public funds should be made available to such objectors. At
Column 583present none of those causes has legal aid and in my hierarchy of priorities they are stronger causes for legal aid than the pursuit of every action for defamation which would be recommended in accordance with the principles of legal aid.
I was also puzzled by the comments of the proposer of the Bill about juries. He told us that he wants the press to be punished in some way or at least rectified in its bad behaviour, but when in a few isolated cases the courts awarded substantial damages for defamation he suggests that the decision on those cases should not be in the hands of juries. If those damages had been wholly wrong or so unreasonable that they were completely out of line with other decisions on damages, the victims of those awards-- the press--would have had a perfectly good right of appeal. It is interesting that the newspapers concerned either did not exercise that right or were unsuccessful in a number of cases. I ask the proposer of the Bill to consider that aspect of the matter because it seems to conflict with his main objectives.
I am not altogether convinced about the Bill. I see considerable difficulty and constitutional objections on the lines that I have discussed, but I am still listening to the arguments because the matter requires pretty urgent consideration by the House and by the bodies responsible for the press.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue, and congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on introducing it. As a journalist of 20 years, I believe that all serious journalists will support the measure. I know that many journalists are deeply ashamed of the discredit brought upon the profession by the behaviour of some of its members.
The press has had many years to put its house in order. It has chosen not to do so, so it is not entitled to object to the fact that the House is now taking such measures. I am also a former editor of Tribune, a modest but distinguished publication, an honour that I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). We always corrected mistakes as soon as they were drawn to our attention. That tradition was passed from editor to editor. Furthermore, however rough the going got--and my right hon. Friend and I had our differences--we always gave the right to reply to anyone of any political shade who wished to respond to anything we published in the paper.
I welcome the Bill as someone who briefly displaced my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) in The Sun demonology as the most odious man in Britain. My attempt to secure justice for the six innocent men convicted for the Birmingham pub bombings--which, I must be fair, received a fairly sympathetic press--provoked a front-page lead in The Sun headed :
"Loony MP Backs Bomb Gang"
I made no complaint about that. Indeed, I have it framed and hanging on the wall of my study. However, it is certainly one of the functions of the lower end of our press to hound dissidents. In a free press we expect journalists to dispute people's views, but it is unacceptable for journalists to go searching through the private lives of
Column 584people who take a position of principle outside the consensus in the hope that they can be discredited or smeared in some back-door way.
Anyone denounced in that way will know that such denunciations trigger off a huge wave of hate mail from some of the disturbed people who read papers such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Sun and the News of the World. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) gave us some rather graphic examples from his own case. Such letters are sometimes accompanied by threats of violence and may even result in actual physical assaults. To illustrate my point, I shall quote two of the most extreme examples that have come to my attention in the past few years. The first concerns a young man, Peter Tatchell, with whom I was on the same parliamentary short list for Bermondsey in 1981. He is a decent, hard- working young man who would have made a good Member of Parliament. He lives modestly in the council flat in Bermondsey where he has always lived. His selection provoked an unprecedented wave of hatred, during which no falsehood was too outrageous to repeat. I shall quote from a recent article in The Independent, which some hon. Members may have seen, in which Peter Tatchell set out the effect that the campaign had on his life subsequently. He described it at greater length and more graphically in a good book, "The Battle for Bermondsey". In the article, Peter Tatchell described what happened to him in the years following the campaign. He said : "For the journalists who wrote the stories I am now old news and they have largely forgotten me : the bigots whose prejudices they aroused have not. Over the last six years I have experienced organised campaigns of harassment in which people have had such things as carpets, refrigerators, hearing aids, kitchen cupboards and encyclopaedias delivered to my home. Bricks have been thrown through my windows, swastikas painted on my front door, my locks have been jammed with superglue and nails, and rubbish has been dumped on my doorstep.
I have received everything in the post from dog droppings to bullets, razor blades, white feathers, sexually sadistic diagrams, invitations to my own funeral and newspaper photographs of myself embellished with drawing of daggers in my throat and guns blowing out my brains.
My phone has brought me a stream of obscene late calls and death threats, including middle-of-the-night calls where the caller very calmly and quietly utters a single word associated with death, such as coffin or morgue, and hangs up.
I have been punched and spat at in the street, threatened with knives and broken bottles on the Tube : I have had cans, wood, screwdrivers fruit, coins, paint and stones hurled at me from passing cars
While riding my bike I have been driven into the gutter by motorists shouting abuse, usually along the lines of : F--- off back to Russia, you communist poof' Since returning to my pre-Bermondsey employment as a freelance journalist I have found that my ability to earn a living has been damaged. On one occasion, when seeking a job as a television researcher, it was suggested that though I had good professional credentials the negative public perception' of my character made employing me a problem. I did not get the job". He said that it is impossible for him to be
"selected again as Labour parliamentary candidate. Even those within the Labour Party who tell me they think I would make a good MP have hesitated to support my selection because they fear the Press coverage during the Bermondsey by-election has made me unelectable." That is a shameful episode in recent political history. Many people of all persuasions, including other candidates in the Bermondsey by-election, have remarked upon it.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : I was the Conservative candidate, otherwise known as the sacrificial lamb, in the Bermondsey by- election. It brings great shame on all journalists that members of the press treated Peter Tatchell in such a way and deliberately lied, particularly since they knew what they were doing--they admitted as much to me. Those who did so included people whom I had otherwise thought to be respectable journalists and some now work on heavyweight newspapers. I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman said.
Mr. Mullin : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is to his credit that, despite any political differences we may have, he recognises such behaviour for what it is.
One point that has not been mentioned very much in the debate is that such behaviour is not, I regret, confined to journalists who work for the popular press. There are journalists who work on the so-called heavy newspapers who succumb to such behaviour. The low point in the campaign against Peter Tatchell was the front page headline in The Sun which read :
"Red Pete goes to Gay Olympics"
That was an entirely false story. On other occasions, photographs were touched up to make him appear effeminate, and all sorts of false suggestions were made about him, with the result on his life that he has described.
No attempt was made to correct any of the untruths, despite the fact that they were repeatedly drawn to the attention of those responsible for them. The Press Council, even though it was told chapter and verse about the matter, took months to reply to complaints and refused to intervene. It suggested that the matter should be taken up with the newspapers concerned, even though initial letters to it had made it clear that that had already been done without success. The result of the election is a matter of record. The other example I wish to quote arises from a strike of train drivers in 1982. Any prominent trade unionist involved in an industrial dispute knows that he or she and his or her family are liable to become the target in a carefully organised wave of hatred aroused by our so-called free press. We know that it is the press that inspires the hatred because many of the death threats and much of the abuse are accompanied by newspaper cuttings.
In the spring of 1982 the train drivers' union, ASLEF, invited me to look through the hate mail prompted by the media coverage of its dispute with British Rail earlier that year. The hate mail filled nine thick files, and it was an enduring monument to the dark forces that are at the beck and call of our free press.
The hate mail began on 4 January, when The Sun and the Daily Mail printed pictures of the cottage in Essex of Mr. Ray Buckton, who was then the general secretary of ASLEF. It was headed "Who has two homes, three cars and does not go to work by train?" That was the headline in The Sun over a grossly misleading account of Mr. Buckton's lifestyle. The facts were that Mr. Buckton rented from the union a modest house in Edgware, owned a cottage in Essex and had one car.
The arson threats began immediately :
"What a lovely little swallow's nest for a petrol bomb" wrote one Daily Mail reader. We know it was a Daily Mail reader because he had taken the trouble to append the cutting. Across the bottom he had written
"Won't that thatch burn."
Column 586Many of the arson threats were delivered direct to the cottage ; the Daily Mail had thoughtfully provided its readers with the address. The telephone calls to ASLEF's head office-- incidentally, this was well before the strike began--started a few days later. "We hope he has got a good insurance policy on his cottage," said one caller on 12 January. "We know where the cottage is. It will be up in smoke" said another.
The first strike took place on 13 January, and the Daily Express got in on the act with a front-page story headed
"No wonder Ray Buckton is smiling--rail strike leader goes to work by car."
Underneath was a picture of a smiling Ray Buckton, who was said to be
"not unduly worried about being tagged the most unpopular man in Britain".
This prompted, among the more printable letters, one which said "Dear Mr. Buckton,
How does it feel to be the most hated man in Britain? I think you and your drivers are the most selfish, traitorous, despicable, opportunist bastards in the community. I know what you look like and I am going to wait outside your union office one evening and when you emerge I am going to smash your face in."
Between them, the Mail, The Sun and the Express sell 8 million copies a day. From the day on which that strike started, the readers of these papers were not permitted access to a dispassionate discussion of the issues involved. I appreciate that we might disagree about the issues, but the readers were not offered either side of the story. Instead, they were fed a daily diet of lies and misinformation, and in some cases they were openly incited to violence.
To begin with, most of the poison was directed at Ray Buckton personally. By contrast, no newspaper thought that the lifestyle of the British Rail chairman, who was then Sir Peter Parker, relevant to a discussion of the dispute, and it is a fair bet that Sir Peter had a friendlier postbag.
Meanwhile, letters from angry commuters all over the country poured into ASLEF. They came mainly from addresses in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, and seemed to be written by fans of the BBC's "Any Questions?" Anonymous letters were variously signed "Taxpayer", "Pensioner" or "Disgusted of Claygate". General Jaruzelski seemed to have a number of admirers in Surrey. One person wrote
"If you were in Poland at the moment, you would probably be shot, and a jolly good thing too."
Many Daily Mail and Daily Express readers seemed to be under the impression that ASLEF was a tool of the Kremlin. The level of debate was not very high.
"Horrible Red, go back to Moscow",
one Daily Mail reader scrawled across a cutting from the paper. "Dishonest rat, go to Russia",
another had written across a Cummings cartoon from the Sunday Express.
By the time the strike entered its third week The Sun turned even nastier and launched a major campaign to criminalise all train drivers. On 2 January under the front page headline, "Taken for a ride", the paper carried allegations suggesting that train drivers were fiddling work rosters and drinking on duty. The source of the allegations was two young assistant drivers who apparently had been offered up to £300 for their story. One is quoted as saying :
Column 587"Thanks to Ray Buckton and ASLEF a driver or assistant due to work on his rest day is paid double time for lying in bed asleep." The story was also given two inside pages under the heading "The drivers earn double time just by lying in bed",
which was printed in letters 1 in high. No sub-editor saw fit to clothe the quote in quotation marks or even to introduce a hint of qualification. The message was clear ; all train drivers are on the fiddle.
By the next day cracks had started to appear in the story. It emerged that one of The Sun's sources, Max Wallace, had appeared in court that very week charged with falsifying work records. That embarrassing news was broken to readers in a story tucked away at the bottom of an inside page, ingeniously headed :
"Accused Max stays firm over fiddlers."
Pride of place was given to a story across two pages headed in letters 2 in high :
"Whose head do I kick in?"
That was alleged to be a quote from an anonymous train driver, summing up his mates' reaction to the Sun's revelation. The message was clear : train drivers are not only fiddlers, but they are violent.
A few days later it emerged that the other source of The Sun's story, Geoffrey Leighson, had twice been sacked by British Rail for unsatisfactory work and bad time keeping. That news was witheld from readers. At King's Cross railwaymen hit back, in the only way they knew how, in defiance of their union. They blacked the handling of Murdoch's newspapers--a far more effective method than complaining to the Press Council. As a result two ASLEF officials were awarded a half page right of reply in The Sun for the five pages of vitriol which had previously appeared.
Mr. Roger King : The hon. Gentleman is recounting stories of about seven years ago. I expect that he will be bringing forward more up-to-date stories. Will he, for example, denigrate the vilification of P and O management by newspapers for its alleged conduct over the Townsend Thoresen disaster? Will he join in the defence against the vilification heaped on London Regional Transport executives, who were somehow considered wholly responsible for the King's Cross fire? In the event they may well have had some responsibility for it, but they were tried in the press without any right of reply. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that they, too, should have had a fair hearing.
Mr. Mullin : Yes, I hope that what unites the hon. Gentleman and me is the belief that anybody, however strong or controversial his views, should be allowed a fair hearing. The basis of democracy is the free flow of information. The electorate is permitted access to all views contending for recognition and can choose between them. That cannot occur if only one view is presented. I shall be as robust as the hon. Gentleman in defending anybody who suffers in the same way. I am sure that the management of P and O did not suffer as some of these people did. Whether or not it did, I shall certainly defend anybody denigrated in this way.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : I wonder whether my hon. Friend or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) has any evidence whatever that the
Column 588P and O chairman ever made a complaint which was not published. That would be very different from the railwaymen.
Mr. Mullin : I do not know about that, but if the hon. Member catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will undoubtedly help us on that.
The hon. Member for Northfield said that the stories happened seven years ago. They did, but matters got a great deal worse and today hon. Members have described many incidents that have happened since then.
I shall resume the story of ASLEF. Two detailed accounts show the effect that this has on people's lives. The Sun felt that it deserved to be congratulated. It published a page of readers' letters under the headline "Well done our Sun", which was subtitled : "At last someone has had the courage to tell us the truth." It had been a great week for British journalism. By now the hate mail was flooding into ASLEF's head office. The switchboard was jammed with abusive telephone calls. The staff had to be locked into the building. For them it was nothing new. In past disputes they had had excreta and bloodstained rags pushed through the door and eggs thrown into the building. Several newspapers carried incitements to violence against train drivers--even the Sunday Telegraph, which is not a popular paper or one that we associate with the gutter press. In the Sunday Telegraph of 17 January 1982 Auberon Waugh advised train travellers to carry a stout length of rope
"in case it becomes necessary to hang the driver."