Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Will the Secretary of State tell us what the statement means for Greater Manchester east ? When will the M66 from Denton to Middleton be completed ? When will the A6(M) Stockport bypass begin and how much of the vaunted money for public transport, of which the Minister talks, will come to Greater Manchester ?

Mr. MacGregor : The M66 Denton-Middleton contract is in priority 1. That means that it has been given the highest priority.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the cancellation of the Stamford relief road is an absolute disaster for the beautiful and historic town of Stamford, which is literally being suffocated and shaken to death by an endless line of heavy

Column 941

traffic at all hours of the day ? Is there any way in which the matter may be reconsidered ? In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of imposing a weight restriction on Stamford bridge ? Will he also tell me whether there is any chance of the Deepings bypass being constructed, for which my constituents have been waiting with decreasing patience for the past 50 years ?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is demonstrating that there are heavy demands all around the country for bypasses and, simply, it is not possible to accommodate them all. One of the reasons why the Stamford relief road was withdrawn was its extremely controversial nature. My hon. Friend will know that the A1(M) Stamford bypass remains very much in the programme. Perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend on his point about the bridge.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : I am not sure whether to congratulate the Secretary of State on the A167 western bypass at Durham, because the decision will anger a lot and delight many.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : What does my hon. Friend think ?

Mr. Steinberg : I am sitting on the fence. Was the decision as a result of the public inquiry ? Is that road scheme now dead once and for all, because the situation is becoming worse and worse as more traffic begins to use the road ?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated in his own case what I frequently find--schemes delight some people and annoy others. I noticed that he did not decide on which side of the fence he was.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : My hon. Friend is on the roundabout.

Mr. MacGregor : Yes, he is going nowhere, but round and round, whereas I have to make decisions. The scheme was withdrawn not as a result of the public inquiry, but because it was extremely controversial and we did not feel that, in the end, it demonstrated that appropriate benefits and value for money could have been achieved from it. We wrestled long and hard over the decision on that bypass. That scheme is withdrawn and will not be renewed, but that does not mean that, in future, one cannot consider other schemes. I am not necessarily making a commitment in that case, but I am making a general point that one can consider other schemes to deal with the special congestion pressures that arise. Indeed, there are some new schemes in the programme, compared with that of 1989, for that very reason.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : During his most welcome statement, my right hon. Friend referred twice to public inquiries. He will know that the centre section of the A299 Thanet way, which is vital to my constituents and to development area status, has been delayed for some 15 months during the public inquiry. That is in not the fault of the Department of Transport ; it is due to the unfortunate domestic circumstances of the inspector, and I know that it is as frustrating to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic as it is to me and my constituents. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to review the inquiry system ?

Column 942

Mr. MacGregor : I am sorry to hear of that situation. I know that my hon. Friend has talked to the Minister for Roads and Traffic about that issue. Our review of public inquiries is designed to deal with a number of those issues. For example, there are proposals for assistant inspectors and to bring the inquiries more in line with the planning inquiries of the Department of the Environment. I certainly hope that it would help in the sort of case to which my hon. Friend referred and I should certainly be happy to talk to him and my hon. Friend the Minister about it.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : Is the Secretary of State aware that his remarks about the Birmingham northern relief road will draw hollow laughter from my constituents, who would have seen the opening of that road this year if the Government had not changed it from a public to a private scheme ? Will he answer one question about that road ? There is a direct contradiction between the tolling design of that road and the only tolling design that was said in the Government's recent Green Paper to be environmentally and economically acceptable. The statement has not resolved that contradiction. Will the Secretary of State resolve it now ?

Mr. MacGregor : The reason we have gone for electronic tolling in the Green Paper is that it is talking about tolling on existing motorways where there are many points of access and exit. We believe that putting a tolling system of the traditional plaza sort on to an existing motorway is not feasible in most cases because it would require a huge land take on an existing motorway and would not achieve the purpose of the exercise. There is a big difference between constructing a new motorway and putting tolling on to existing systems.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Can my right hon. Friend tell me what is the status of the Disley-High Lane bypass under his proposals ? That bypass, which is vital to the villages of Disley and Newtown in my constituency, has been on the stocks for many years ; hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on it. With the increasing use of the existing A6 for heavy commercial vehicles coming from the quarries in Derbyshire to provide aggregate for Manchester airport, the bypass is vital. What is its status ? Will my right hon. Friend give some reassurance that it will be in a programme very soon ?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend illustrates precisely some of the problems that we face and the problems that those such as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who want to see the road programme substantially cut, simply do not recognise. I am well aware of the pressures for bypasses. However, in view of the substantial number of existing bypasses, and despite our high level of spending--it is slightly down on last year, but it is a record compared with everything in the past- -it is not possible to carry through all the bypasses at the speed that everyone would wish. Therefore, we had to examine the economic benefits analysis and other matters in order to set our priorities. It is partly for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)--that a lot of money can be spent on the preparation of bypasses which, in the end, are a lower priority--that I have set about the prioritisation.

The Disley and High Lane bypass certainly remains in the programme, but it is in the long-term programme and,

Column 943

therefore, will have to wait for other bypasses to get priority. There are four other schemes in my hon. Friend's constituency, two in priority 1 and two in priority 2. That shows the heavy pressures on the programme.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Secretary of State aware that at Bramley Vale school, which is a few hundred yards from the motorway near junction 29 on the M1, 25 per cent. of the schoolchildren suffer from asthma and have to use inhalers ? How can it make any sense to widen that road ? I see that junctions 25 to 28 are in priority 1 and junctions 28 to 31 are in priority 2. Why does not the Secretary of State think about those schoolkids and the many more who will suffer if the Government continue to widen the road, and scrap these projects altogether ?

Mr. MacGregor : Because if traffic, including heavy goods traffic, moved at a snail's pace on our motorways or was congested and held up for a very long time, and was hard to move at all, or it went back on to local roads, none of those options would be attractive from the environmental pollution point of view. Improving the main routes to ensure that traffic flows through at a reasonable speed is one of the best ways of reducing environmental pollution. The other part of it is not part of the statement today but is very important--the many measures that we are taking to reduce our environmental pollution through improvements in vehicle emission standards.

Mr. John Ward (Poole) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) will be delighted that the Poole harbour crossing and the Poole A31 link are retained firmly in the programme ? That will improve the prosperity of the port of Poole and provide a big improvement in the environment in the town of Poole.

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is a good example of a scheme that we examined in great detail. There are some environmental disbenefits to the schemes, as my hon. Friend will know, and there are also big economic benefits. Therefore, we had to weigh the two before coming to the conclusion that we did, and I am glad that the conclusion accorded with my hon. Friend's view.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : If the Secretary of State is as committed to public transport as he claims to be, why did he make outside the House yesterday's albeit welcome announcement regarding the Northern line ? What choice will there be for the 56 per cent. of people living in my borough who have no access to private transport ?

Mr. MacGregor : I should be very happy to answer questions about the Northern line, but I do not think that it comes within the scope of the statement on which I am answering questions. However, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future. It is certainly my intention

Ms Glenda Jackson : Now ?

Mr. MacGregor : I think that I should be out of order if I were to answer such questions now.

Madam Speaker : Order. The Secretary of State would be totally out of order. It was very remiss of me not to be aware, until it was a little late, of what the hon. Lady was saying. Otherwise, I should have taken care of it.

Column 944

Mr. MacGregor : Perhaps we shall have another opportunity. I hope so.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : I should like, first, to thank my right hon. Friend and his sensitive roads Minister for what has been done on the A418. Will my right hon. Friend now pursue his policy of prioritisation ? Will he persuade the Cabinet to prioritise public spending on public transport and tell the public that they cannot have it both ways- -that they cannot continue to have large public expenditure on universal benefits and, at the same time, expect investment in the subsidisation of public transport ? Can my right hon. Friend also explain something that I have never understood--why the Government are against a unified transport policy ?

Mr. MacGregor : I thank my hon. Friend for his response to our decisions. He is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is not only sensitive but robust in the way he approaches these matters. I cannot go into my hon. Friend's points concerning the wider public expenditure priorities outside my Department. However, I can assure him that particular priorities are considered thoroughly and very carefully all the time, in the context of not only global sums but individual schemes and their inter-relationship.

I sometimes wonder what people mean when they refer to an integrated or unified transport policy. I know what the Labour party means--centralised control, dictation from the centre. My view is that it is very important to let the market work on an infrastructure that is provided in a co-ordinated way by the Government. If my hon. Friend looks at the annual report of the Department of Transport he will see that we set out there the strategic objectives. Running clearly through the report is evidence of coherence and co-ordination in the whole of our transport policy--aviation, shipping and ports, as well as the road and rail infrastructures. These all fit together.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich) : As the unloved and hare-brained east London river crossing is not likely to proceed in the foreseeable future, and as it shares with the A5 to Stansted the fact that it is unlikely that an environmentally acceptable route will be found, will the Minister now make it a round 50 and withdraw the proposal, thereby ending the appalling blight in the Plumstead and Abbey Wood area, and introduce instead the Woolwich rail tunnel and the Woolwich metro, which would be environmentally friendly and would cost much less ?.

Mr. MacGregor : We expect to announce by the summer how the whole question of the east London river crossing should be taken forward. There remains a strong commitment to the provision of cross-river links, which are needed for the east Thames corridor. The east London river crossing and the Blackwall schemes are complementary. Work is continuing, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient before starting to make his points again.

Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Unlike most of my hon. Friends, I shall not ask my right hon. Friend for any public expenditure whatsoever. Will he look very carefully at the Runnymede proposals, to which he referred in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir. G. Pattie) ? Would not it make more sense to study these before a public inquiry, which would be hugely expensive for everyone involved ? If they proved to

Column 945

be better, there would be a saving of £400 million--the amount that my right hon. Friend proposes to spend on these very unpopular link roads.

Mr. MacGregor : I understand my hon. Friend's point entirely. I have looked very carefully at the Runnymede report. Let me explain the difficulty. Our assessment of all the various proposals in the report, many of which, as my hon. Friend knows, we are taking forward anyway, is that they would not make sufficient provision for likely traffic growth on that stretch of the M25, which is between the M3 and the M4 and is one of the busiest parts of the entire United Kingdom transport network. If our assessment is that it does not fully meet the requirements, the important thing will be for all this to be tested at a public inquiry. I believe that it is necessary to have the matter fully investigated in public. I will certainly ensure that all the schemes in the Runnymede report are investigated thoroughly in a public inquiry.

However, there are issues that go way beyond that, and that is why it makes sense to have the public inquiry. The public inquiry is only one part of the process, but it is extremely important. We will have to wait for the recommendations of the inspector which arise from that before we decide what to do next. A public inquiry is the right place for all that to be fully aired.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the A1 link between the east of England and Scotland must be regarded as a key route in any analysis ? Is it his intention to stand by the undertaking given by his predecessor before the election to complete the dual carriageway link between Newcastle and Edinburgh and, if so, when ?

Mr. MacGregor : I recognise the importance of the A1, and I travel on it frequently. I understand its importance to Edinburgh, but all parts of the road programme and the road network have different amounts of traffic on them. In the assessment we make of how we establish priorities, we must look at such things.

We have indicated the prioritisation of the A1 in the review. The hon. Gentleman will know that, of course, there is already substantial work taking place on part of the A1. Everyone who travels through that road improvement will benefit from it, even if other parts are not taken forward at the same pace.

Mr. Home Robertson : Where ?

Mr. MacGregor : In Yorkshire. Improvements are taking place there already. All those who talk about the importance of the A1 to people in Newcastle and in Scotland and who travel to London will recognise that all the improvements that take place will benefit them. We must set a timetable of priorities for the whole route, but the commitment remains.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of people in East and West Sussex and further points to the east and west of Sussex welcome the go-ahead for the A27 for safety, commercial and personal travel reasons, and, not least, for tourism ? Equally, the majority of people are concerned about the delay on the A26 link to Sussex's one senior port of

Column 946

Newhaven. It is crucial to the development of that port, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will review the decision and move it up to priority 2.

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the A27 Lewes to Polegate improvement. He knows that I know that road fairly well. It is interesting to note that some of the objections to any road-building programmes, which have been voiced in the national media, have been related to that scheme. I have been on programmes where that scheme has been sharply criticised. My hon. Friend accurately represents the local view and the view of those who will benefit from the improvement. That is why I am glad that it is priority 2.

As for the other scheme to which my hon. Friend referred, I must repeat that it is not possible to take all improvements forward at the same pace. As we complete other schemes in priority 1 and the existing construction programme, it will be possible to roll forward schemes in the longer-term programme. I have noted what my hon. Friend says.

Madam Speaker : Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I knew that I had a 50 :50 chance of being called. Will the Secretary of State comment on the second page of his statement where he mentions the future of the public inquiry system ? Is he aware that many people view that as an ominous proposal which seeks to curtail the right of people to attend public inquiries, to put forward points of view that are at variance with the central thrust of Government policy and to bring into account matters of health, environment, total expenditure and alternatives such as public transport, rather than roadbuilding ? Many are concerned about that. Could he set those fears at rest and tell us when there will be a statement on the future of the public inquiry system ?

Mr. MacGregor : I hope that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the proposals that we put out for public consultation. Those are freely available, and I will happily send them to him. He will see that his fears that the public inquiry system is in any way being curtailed are wrong. We are seeking to bring it up to date, to make it more efficient and effective and to enable it to do its work. We want to bring it more into line with the Department of Environment's public inquiries. I will happily wait to hear the hon. Gentleman's response to the public consultation document that we sent out.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that dualling of the A2 between Lydden and the port of Dover now has a priority rating which it never had before and that, as a result, he will undertake personally to investigate why there have been delays in the consultation process getting started ? Will he do all in his power to ensure that the Highways Agency gets the work under way and that the public consultation will be put into operation this year ?

Mr. MacGregor : I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the scheme is in priority 2. I will look into the points that he raised.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) : I welcome the confirmation that work is to proceed on the M6-M65 link. Does the Minister appreciate that when that motorway link

Column 947

is completed, 11,000 cars a day will spill into Colne at the end of the eastward section of the M65 ? Will he give further consideration, perhaps along with Lancashire county council, to building the bypasses at Colne and Earby that local people are crying out for ?

Mr. MacGregor : I have noted the hon. Gentleman's comments. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will look into them.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : Will my right hon. Friend consider assisting Madam Speaker by taking up the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that he should publish his document perhaps 15 or 30 minutes before he makes his statement so that Members can see what it says and might well not have to ask the question that I now have to ask ? Will he confirm that full dualling of the major roads to the west country, between the end of the M3 and Exeter--the A303 and the A30--has not been delayed in any way ?

Mr. MacGregor : On the first part of my right hon. Friend's question, he will know that that is not a question for me now. I am going by the existing rules. On his second question, he will know that the A30 Honiton to Exeter improvement will start in the year about to begin. Certainly some of the other schemes of concern and interest to him are in priority 2.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) : I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's announcement on the M12, plans for which have blighted a considerable part of my constituency. He mentioned the upgrading of the A12. Will he confirm that it will not be made up to motorway specifications and that my constituency will not be blighted by the son of M12 ?

Mr. MacGregor : I can confirm that the road will not be upgraded to motorway status. The point that I hope my hon. Friend recognises--I think that he does, because he welcomed the M12 decision--is that it makes sense to

Column 948

concentrate the improvements required because of increased traffic to existing road corridors such as the A12. That does not mean that they have to be a motorway.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : If my right hon. Friend is against driving new roads through beautiful countryside, why does not he score a half century, make the 49 up to 50 and drop the wretched western orbital route ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am aware of my hon. Friend's objection to that route. At present, the proposal is suspended while we consider the design, build, finance and operate initiative that we are undertaking. In due course, perhaps I can come back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East) : I welcome the retention of the two A38 trunk road schemes in my constituency as priority categories. Can my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance to the House that the project for a second Tamar crossing has been dropped ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments about the two schemes to which he referred. It is interesting to note that this afternoon there have been many welcomes of the schemes that are in the programme and the objections have mainly come from those who have had to face the fact that some of their schemes will be delayed a little because of the priorities. The welcomes and objections have come from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) recognises the priority that so many people in the House and outside give to the roads programme. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a few examples himself. He went out of his way to say that we should abandon large sections of the programme that we are carrying through. I do not think that that reflects what the House feels or what the people in the country feel. We are still considering the Tamar crossing and we hope to come to a decision about it fairly soon.

Column 949

Points of Order

4.40 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise a matter relating to the rights of Back Benchers. Fifteen weeks ago, on 16 December, I tabled a question to the Prime Minister about the third of a million pounds that was spent on cars for officials--not Ministers--at No. 10 Downing street, which is three times the amount spent on the Prime Minister's car. Fifteen weeks later, I have received no reply.

On 13 January--11 weeks ago--I tabled another question on a different aspect of the issue. Eleven weeks later, I have still not received a reply. Three weeks ago, on 7 March, I tabled a question asking when I was to receive an answer to the previous two questions. I have still not received an answer to that question, or to the previous two questions.

Last night, I telephoned No. 10 and I was told that various draft answers had been put to the Prime Minister, but these had been rejected and they said that they would come back to me today. They came back to me at about 11 o'clock this morning and said that they hope to put yet another draft in the Prime Minister's box tonight and, if he clears it tonight, I will get an answer tomorrow--which is not the most convenient of days, as hon. Members will appreciate--but if he does not clear it, I will not get an answer until after the recess.

The one good note in this episode came as a result of my impatience which prompted me to mention your name, Madam Speaker, and say that I intended to raise the matter with you this afternoon. In the last hour, I have received a telephone call from No. 10 saying that they have managed to catch hold of the Prime Minister who has now cleared a draft and an answer will be on the message board this afternoon. You, Madam Speaker, are aware of the situation and I know how much you value the rights of Back Benchers. Is there anything that you can do to stop this abuse of our rights ?

Madam Speaker : I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has received an answer today to his questions. That has been reported to me. I appreciate that an inordinate length of time has elapsed since the right hon. Gentleman tabled his original questions. I notice that he, rightly, reminded the Department of the delay in a further question which he tabled earlier this month.

I believe that hon. Members have a right to receive written answers to questions within a reasonable period or to be informed of the reasons for the delay. I hope that, in general, all Government Departments will take note of the points I have made about this matter today.

Sir David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your help and guidance. As you know, a number of hon. Members were trying to catch your eye in the statement on trunk roads, but did not do so--that, of course, is not always possible. But sometimes we have Government statements at 10 o'clock at night. I wonder, therefore, whether after 10 o'clock

Column 950

tonight we could resume questioning on the statement on roads which we have just heard and which is so important to our constituencies.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Does it relate to the previous point of order ? I imagine that it does.

Mr. Sumberg : It is slightly different, Madam Speaker. You rightly ask in the House that Back Benchers make their questions extremely short-- we all support that. Is there any way that you can invite Front Benchers on both sides of the House to make their questions and answers equally short ? That would have given me the chance to tell the Front Bench the disastrous news that the M62 relief road is still to go ahead and how that is resented by all [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I think that some hon. Members are not listening when I ask all Members to make their questions and answers brisk. I am equally concerned about Government Departments. I have made it known-- I will put it like that--to each Government Department that I want brisk answers.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : That is news.

Madam Speaker : No, it is not news. The hon. Gentleman must not have been in the Chamber when I have constantly made it known to Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike that I want brisk questions and brisk answers. I am glad that that point has been reinforced by Back-Bench Members today.

As for returning to this matter at 10 o'clock tonight, that is a matter for the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman might use the usual channels to try his luck at getting a debate on transport at some time. He might then catch my eye during the debate and raise the points that he wishes to raise.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have to draw your attention to the fact that, upon emerging from the Chamber just now, I found a most interesting letter in my slot which was not there when I came into the Chamber. It is headed "MacGregor announces radical new roads prioritisation". I should have liked to read this letter before I listened to the statement. I do not know how many of my colleagues are in the same position, but it suggests that there may be reason to review our curious and archaic procedures so that all Members are well informed beforehand.

Madam Speaker : I was informed this morning that the Secretary of State and his Department were doing their level best to see that something like 400 Members received the letter. As soon as it was known that a statement was to be made today, the Secretary of State and his Department and the authorities of the House went to great lengths to distribute the letter in order to ensure that hon. Members received it as far in advance of the statement today as possible.

Column 951

Picture Manipulation

4.44 pm

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require news media to prepare a code of practice to cover the principles by which pictures may be edited, altered or changed using computer techniques and to record clearly when old film is being used and when the person presenting the film was not present during its filming.

In a democracy, it is essential that accurate information be available to everyone. Rightly, at present, there are many worries about our mass media. In the Bill, I want to draw attention to an important matter, more in the hope of stimulating debate about it than, at this time in the Session, hoping that it can become an Act of Parliament.

Most people are aware of the old adage "the camera never lies". It seems to me that many people still believe it, in spite of the fact that many of them are aware that over the ages pictures have been faked--for example, the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies which were authenticated by no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many pictures of the Loch Ness monster have clearly been faked and there is a very interesting series of pictures that show the way in which photographs of the Russian revolution changed as political correctness within the Soviet Union changed.Most of us have had similar experiences with family photographs. Perhaps there sits on the mantlepiece a photograph of Uncle Albert with a broad grin on his face, yet we know that, except for that one picture, he almost never grinned in his whole life.

Most people also know about photo opportunities. My constituents are well aware that Members of Parliament, in particular, and royalty try to contrive to be photographed in the most desirable, but not always the most accurate, circumstances. We remember the photograph of the Princess of Wales at the Taj Mahal. She was supposed to be "all alone", except anyone who thought about it for a second or two realised that several hundred photographers were present also. In spite of the evidence, most people believe pictures, particularly those accompanied by a well-respected voice on television, far more than they believe the written word. Sadly, few people realise just how easy it is to alter pictures or make them actually misleading. As I have said, it has always been possible to fake photographs and film. However, with the aid of computers and electronic images, what was often a slow, laborious business can now be accomplished in a few minutes. There are programmes such as Photoshop for still pictures and anyone who watches commercial television can see how computers are being used to adapt pieces of film for television adverts. Certainly within the next three or four years, it will be fairly easy to run a piece of video film through a computer programme and change the nature of it entirely.

Certainly in the last 12 months, I have seen a considerable number of examples of the way in which newspapers, in particular, have adapted and distorted pictures. In preparing for this debate, I took the trouble to write to a series of national newspaper editors and television companies. Almost all of them acknowledge that there is a problem. Of course, most of them claim that they would not dream of adapting or distorting a picture in their

Column 952

publications or on their programmes, but they were then very keen to point out how some of their rivals were doing this.

I make it clear that I do not have any objection to a newspaper morphing the face of a politician or a football manager with a turnip to produce a cross between a human face and a turnip. I do not mind if a picture editor decides to slip a photograph of someone from the past, such as W.G. Grace, into a picture of the present English cricket team. I would not have minded if I had looked at the morning newspapers today and seen the Prime Minister's image taken out of political pictures and put into cricketing pictures or seen the English cricket captain put into political pictures. That is all fair and reasonable fun. I have no objections to photomontages or when people say that they are using library film on television. The reason for my Bill is that I object to the fact that pictures are altered-- although the readers are not aware of that fact--and may thus have a major impact on the way in which readers respond to the pictures. As a hypothetical example--I am not claiming that it has happened, but everyone will understand the problems involved--let us assume that a prominent person has acquired a black eye and is photographed with it. How colourful, painful and bloody it looks in a newspaper picture may well decide how much sympathy or disgust the public feel. Substantial problems can arise when the photograph is taken, depending on the film used by the photographer and the camera angle, but once the picture ends up on the picture editor's desk, he or she can still change its appearance to make the wound look more gory and much worse, using a few movements of a programme such as Photoshop. That can make the picture far more dramatic and can change people's perception of the black eye, which might have been caused legitimately by a bang against a door, but, when processed, looked as if it had been caused by something more significant.

The same applies in child abuse cases, as we have seen several times lately. After the case and someone's conviction, a picture appears in the newspaper. It is extremely easy to make the bruises or other injuries shown in the picture that bit more graphic, with a little work using something like Photoshop.

As I only have 10 minutes, I must move quickly to the problems of moving pictures, which are often also distorted. During the summer recess, I rang one of my colleagues in the shadow Cabinet as I wanted a word with him, only to be told that he was away on holiday. I had no objections to that, but when I turned on the television news at six o'clock and saw him at a meeting of the shadow Cabinet my first reaction was, "I'm not going to vote for him again." When I checked the picture very carefully, I realised that the television company was using a piece of film showing a shadow Cabinet meeting several months before. Had I been one of my hon. Friend's constituents, I would have been annoyed to have seen him on television after being fobbed off by someone who said that he was not available. I understand the problems for television companies and for politicians. The companies are reluctant to show people at what they call business, such as walking through doors or along the road, or clearing their desks. However, if they continue to use film from the past, without saying that it is library film, they are in danger of producing a false impression and there are many examples of that.

Column 953

I have considered the regulatory processes-- the Press Complaints Commission and organisations set up under the Broadcasting Act 1988 do not really regulate such matters. That is the point of my Bill--to deal with that problem.

If newspapers change the slogan on a T-shirt, for example, to that proclaiming one newspaper to another, when it was not changed, or if they take out the background in a picture of Nelson Mandela because it suits their presentation and if library film is continually presented on television as if it were current film, it will discredit the media and a lot of problems may result.

People in this country have a right to know that pictures used in the mass media are what they are represented as being--accurate pictures of what is happening. I also argue that if material used on television does not show something that the person doing the voice-over saw taking place, that should be made clear. If old films are used, that should also be indicated.

If we do not observe those standards, we are on a slippery slope towards unsatisfactory mass media. I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill and that it can further the discussion of what is and is not reasonable when pictures are changed in print and on television.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Jim Callaghan, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Tom Cox, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Martin Redmond and Mr. Don Dixon.

Next Section

  Home Page