§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies (St. Pancras, South-West)
I beg to move,That, having regard to the increasing public concern at the growth of monopolistic tendencies in the control of the Press and with the object of furthering the free expression of opinion through the Press and the greatest practicable accuracy in the presentation of news, this House considers that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the finance, control, management and ownership of the Press.I believe it is customary, Sir, for hon. Members taking part in a Debate of this kind to disclose their interests. I can do that very easily. I am not a newspaper proprietor, but I am a working journalist as distinct from those poor unfortunates of no occupation, who, when hauled before the police courts, are always described as "journalists." I believe that a number of hon. Members when they saw yesterday's "Daily Express" thought that I was not going to be here today to move this Motion, because there it was reported, obviously with the intention of conveying the impression that I was running away from it, that I had said with reference to the Motion:I am not looking forward to it now with as much pleasure as 1 was a few weeks ago.That statement is perfectly true but taken out of its context. It so happened that I was addressing a youth parliament and this was a half jocular aside, to show these young people that they were not the only ones who could become nervous. The reason for my nervousness would be obvious to anyone, because in Saturday morning's papers I read that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) was to reply to this Debate. The last time he made a speech of any importance ten men were hanged and one committed suicide. I hope to have a little better luck today.
The real issue contained in this Motion is that of the freedom of the Press, and I hope that in all the discussion we shall keep that to the front of our minds. There has been a good deal of ballyhoo in the newspapers ever since this Motion was put down last July Indeed, the best argument I know for a Commission to inquire into the Press has been the way the newspapers have handled this since it first went on the Order Paper. All the big guns were brought out to prove that 453 a Royal Commission was entirely unnecessary. Then, when they discovered that a day had been given for a Debate, the entire tone has changed, and now we are told by the same people that they would welcome a Royal Commission because they have nothing at all to hide. This death-bed repentance is typical of the newspaper proprietors. They realise that if this House gives a free vote today, there is every chance of there being a Commission, and their hope now is to prove to the Government that it is completely unnecessary and that the Government will therefore take no action.
I would like it to be understood that this Debate is entirely non-political. To prove that, Sir, I am wearing a blue shirt and a red tie. One cannot be any more impartial than that. Let me first of all thank all my distinguished colleagues of the Press for the kindly way in which, during the past weeks, they have written this speech for me. I am very loyal to my newspaper colleagues but on this occasion I am sorry to disappoint them. They have been very bad thought readers. I wish to mention some of the things which this Debate is not about. This Motion was not put on the Order Paper at the behest of the Lord President of the Council, nor was it put down with the idea of muzzling the Press. It was not put on the Order Paper to curtail the freedom of the Press; it was not because we want to nationalise the Press so as to have State organs only, nor was it because we want to work for the ideal of one national newspaper. We had that once. The only nationalised newspaper we have ever had in this country was produced by the Tory Party and edited by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). We do not want any more of that.
I would like to try to tell the House the origins of this Motion, because it gets rid of nine-tenths of the ballyhoo which hon. Members may have read in the newspapers. I belong to the National Union of Journalists. That organisation is the largest professional organisation in journalism. It will disappoint hon. Members opposite to know that it is a non-political organisation. It has no political fund; it is not affiliated to the Labour Party, and the fact that there are 23 members of that Union in this House merely shows the good sense of the electorate and does not, in any way, 454 reflect the extent of our non-existent political fund. That organisation at its annual conference this year passed a resolution asking for a Royal Commission into the Press. As anyone conversant with trade unions will know, resolutions that reach an annual conference are usually discussed in the 12 months preceding the meeting of that Conference. I can assure this House that this was being discussed in the branches before the last General Election. Therefore, it has nothing to do with the present Government. This Motion would have appeared on the Order Paper irrespective of what party had won the last Election. If journalists had not been Members of this House, doubtless we should have found some other persons interested in this subject who would have sponsored it on our behalf.
It is, therefore, untrue to say that we resent criticism of the Government by the newspapers and therefore want to control them and curtail their freedom. The Motion has nothing at all to do with the so-called sensitiveness of the Front Bench or the prima donna temperament of any politicians. It is based on a resolution passed by journalists because they believe in the freedom of the Press. We claim that, from the inside, we know more about the freedom of the Press than anybody else. For years we have watched this freedom being whittled away. We have watched the destruction of great papers. We have watched the combines come in, buying up and killing independent journals, and we have seen the honourable profession of journalism degraded by high finance and big business. Worst of all, as a result of this, we have watched subservience replace judgment, and we are worried about the position. That is why we are anxious to see freedom once more restored to the Press. I think the best definition of the freedom of the Press which I have ever seen was by Wickham Steed, who wrote:The freedom of the Press, that is to say, the absence of arbitrary official restrictions upon the dissemination of news and of comment upon news, is a pledge of public safety. From this, it follows that the measure of freedom which the Press is entitled to enjoy is subject to the welfare of the community as a whole, and cannot be determined solely by the private interests of newspapers or their owners.That comes from a distinguished journalist and an ex-editor of "The Times," and I 455 would regard that as vital evidence in support of this Motion.
The central issue is this. Can we or can we not have real freedom of the Press in a system of combines and chain newspapers? After all argument has been set aside, this is the central issue, and that is the issue which I invite this House to face. Personally, I do not believe that we can have freedom of the Press and combines and chain newspapers, but it is not my function to say what should be done about the Press. I want a Royal Commission to inquire into it and obtain the facts and, independently, to give their conclusions upon them. I am prepared, as a journalist, to accept the findings of that impartial and independent Commission. We shall certainly be told in the course of the Debate that there is bound to be freedom of the Press, because anyone is free to start a newspaper. I believe that anyone is free to go into the Ritz Hotel, if he has the money with which to pay.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, or to start a trade union, and the hon. Member is an expert in starting trade unions. In the last stage before the war, at least £2 million had to be sunk in a newspaper before it became self-supporting. The "Economist"—I am delighted to see that the Chairman of the "Economist" is in this House today, listening to the Debate—
§ Mr. Davies
The "Economist" said:There are very few industries which impose an entrance fee as high as this.That is the comment of the "Economist," upon the last examined figures. In other words, the present owners of newspapers have a virtual monopoly of the field, and we are entitled to ask where, therefore, lies freedom of expression. The only real freedom of the Press today is the freedom of the newspaper proprietors. They have the perfect closed shop, with the highest entrance fee in industry. We believe that the Press is not just something that deals with finance or is a financial instrument. The newspapers of this country, and, indeed, of the world, deal with ideas and ideals, and are, there- 456 fore, something different from ordinary industry. The commodity called a newspaper is not like something which is being sold like sausages, or fish and chips, although, speaking for myself and for millions in the country, there is a strange association of ideas between newspapers and fish and chips. Indeed, I am told reliably that in certain parts of the country people buy newspapers not for their contents but for their capacity to hold vinegar, which reminds me that, on one occasion there was a conference of journalists at one end of a town, while the fish fryers of Great Britain were meeting in conference at the other end of the town, and they sent this telegram to the journalists:Fraternal greetings to journalists by the fish fryers of Great Britain. Our work is wrapped up in yours.We are bound to be concerned with newspaper trends. We cannot put over our case in the newspapers; therefore, we come to this House to tell the country, through this House, precisely what has been happening. I have some figures. which I think would startle the House. They are the figures of what has been happening in the newspaper world in the last 25 years, that is, from 1921 to 1946. In 1921, there were 12 London morning newspapers; now, there are nine; In 1921, there were six London evening newspapers; now, there are three. In 1921, there were 45 morning papers in the provinces; today, there are only 18. In 1921, there were 88 evening papers in the provinces; now, there are 65. That is for England alone. The Scottish position is a little better, and the Welsh position is small, although, at the same time, catastrophic. In other words, in the last 25 years, 47 per cent. of the morning papers have vanished. Nearly half of them have gone, and one quarter of the evening papers published in the country have disappeared from the face of the earth. Is there anyone concerned with the freedom of the Press who can look upon that position and feel happy? If it is so easy to start a newspaper, why do we have all these deaths and not one birth? That is the position which I would like hon. Members to face, particularly those hon. Members who desire to oppose this Motion in the sacred name of the freedom of the Press. I believe that, when Lord Northcliffe bought the "Daily Mail," it cost him less than 457 £1000,000, and that was in the days before trustification, which he himself began a little later. Not long after, the "Daily Tribune" was started and £600,000 was poured into it before the promoters gave up the unequal struggle and stopped.
The freedom of the Press has been overwhelmed, not by bad or unscrupulous journalists, but by the power of high finance. It is a tragedy for us, who have seen fine old newspapers disappear, particularly in the provinces. We are, at the moment, celebrating the centenary of the birth of C. P. Scott, a grand old man whose name will always be honoured in British journalism, and, I think, by journalists throughout the world. People ask me, "Why are we not producing men like C. P. Scott today?" I think the answer is that there are potential C. P. Scotts in every newspaper office; but I wonder if we would be celebrating the centenary of Scott in the same way had he started his life in a combine newspaper office. I claim that journalists cannot do their job of seriously presenting news and views as long as they are at the mercy and domination of high finance, and of groups of newspaper proprietors, whose power allows them to believe that their views are sacrosanct and their politics almost divine. In those circumstances, one cannot expect real journalism. What is wrong is not so much the private ownership of the Press, but the use that is being made of that private ownership in order to pile up dividends. It is claimed, for example, that these big, powerful combines do not influence local opinions—that they are free. But what kind of freedom is it? There were four papers in Sheffield; they buy four and kill two. There were four in Cardiff; they buy four and kill two. I wonder whether the killing of these papers was really done in the interest of the freedom of the Press, in the interest of the people of those towns, or in the interest of that blessed word "efficiency," which means dividends.
I am not an expert on the North of England, but I have been told that one can go from Manchester to Newcastle, stopping at every large town and in each buy a different newspaper with a different title but that, in every case, the news, the leaders, and the features are the same. They are all part of a great chain. If that is to be held up as an example of the freedom of the Press, I must resist 458 it. I can think of many other names that could be applied to it. I believe that in the whole of Devon and Cornwall there are now only two or three independent papers, and that everything else is in the Harmsworth combine. Is that giving freedom to the people of Devon and Cornwall? If one wishes to buy a newspaper with local news, one has no freedom of choice; one must take the only paper available, or else leave it.
The provinces have been the scene of some pretty disgusting battles for newspaper circulation. We have seen one group going in and another group going in; then a great war of circulation and, then, one group withdrawing from one area and leaving it to a different one. It is all done, we are told, in the sacred name of the freedom of the Press. I am very interested in this question of local papers. The other day, my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council made a speech in which he attacked what he called the "Kemsley gramophone chain," and he had some very hard things to say about it. Through his newspapers, Lord Kemsley made a considered reply, a reply which he said he was making on behalf of his 9,000,000 readers. The main theme of the Lord President's speech was that all those fine old papers, each with a great individual tradition, were now taking their line from one man in London. Lord Kemsley's reply was intended to prove that that statement was untrue. In the course of it he gave four marvellous examples of the way in which his newspapers are merely "their master's voice." The following is an actual quotation from his reply to the Lord President:Before the General Election, I gave instructions to the editors of all my papers to give all Labour candidates fair and liberal representation."—
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order, Mr. Speaker, for hon. Members to discuss a Member of another place?
§ Mr. Speaker
On a Motion like this it is quite unavoidable, because, after all, the noble Lord is the proprietor of these newspapers.
§ Mr. Davies
The quotation continues:and an opportunity of expressing their views.459 In other words, that was to be put into the newspapers, not on news value, not in the public interest or on the editors' judgment, but because Lord Kemsley said it had to be put in. This was said in an article purporting to prove that there was never any directive from London. In a later paragraph, Lord Kemsley said:I took especial pains to see that this was done in those localities where the Kemsley Press had a monopoly of publicity.In other words, there is no freedom of the Press in the localities where Lord Kemsley has the monopoly except when he tells his editors that there has to be. Later on, in the same article, still replying to the Lord President's allegation of the "voice from London," he said:At the commencement of this Government every newspaper under my direction soft pedalled on Government plans and proceedings and pleaded for the party that was put into power to be given a chance to make good.Then, last of all, he went on to say:But since this Government has done so badly and is now so unpopular, particularly with the housewife …the instructions are to go for us. It will be seen that, in an article designed to prove the freedom of the local editors, there is a succession of directives given from Kemsley House. But the worst of all was at the end of that article where Lord Kemsley said that each of his newspapers had a local confine of interest. He said:Except for a wide general regard for Conservative interests—the interests I conceive to be the best for the country—So this vast combine of chain newspapers which we are told does not take orders from London, has to take them from Lord Kemsley.
It is for this House to decide whether or not that is the best way of producing newspapers, in the best interests of the freedom of the Press. Shortly before the war, there was an expert examination into the Press, the finest ever made, by "Political and Economic Planning." At the end of a very comprehensive survey, they came to the conclusion that it was impossible for any private body, even of experts, to secure all the information upon which to frame a newspaper policy. I reread that report yesterday. It is a most enlightening document, and anyone interested in the Press should certainly read it. I want the House to note that "P.E.P." could not 460 come to any final conclusions, because they could not get the evidence, and I am suggesting that only a Royal Commission, with power to send for persons and papers, could get that evidence. But even with such evidence as they were able to collect, " P.E.P." comes to this conclusion:The economic accident which links the function of reporting, interpreting and commenting on news with the running of a large-scale, highly capitalised industry, is having some unfortunate results, and we doubt whether a Press subject to these conditions can fully satisfy democratic needs.That was not a demand made by Socialists because a Socialist Government was being attacked; it was a demand made by an independent survey, at a time when a Conservative Government was in power. But one would think that this was the first time that anyone had ever attacked the Press Lords. Let me read to the House what I think is the greatest thing ever said about the British Press—and, when I talk about the Press in general, I am very conscious of the fact that there are many honourable exceptions but I can only speak in a general fashion. This is the quotation:The papers conducted by Lord Rother- "The papers conducted by Lord Rother-papers in the ordinary acceptance of the term. They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and personal dislikes of two men. What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehood, misrepresentation, half truths, the alteration of a speaker's meaning by putting sentences apart from their context, suppression and editorial criticism of speeches which are not reported in the paper. What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.Hon. Members opposite cheered Mr. Baldwin when he made that statement. I hope when we go to the Division Lobby tonight they will remember the words of their former leader, and how they reacted sensitively under criticism. But we are much more reasonable. We are not denouncing the Press Lords in such language. All we are asking for, in sweet reasonableness, is a Royal Commission.
If I am told that what I want to do is to control, nationalise and clamp down on the Press, let me tell hon. Members opposite that I want more and more newspapers, not fewer. That should appeal to the Conservative Party, because over the weekend they have been proclaiming their new economic policy of democratic capitalism—small ownership widely 461 diffused. So we find the amazing spectacle of a Socialist pleading for a Conservative policy, and a Conservative pleading for a monopolistic policy—all done in the blessed name of freedom. It was once said that newspapers resembled fashionable ladies of the West End in that they are more concerned with their figures than with their morals. Newspaper proprietors are not the only people of whom that can be said. As a journalist, I have often asked myself the famous question put by Pilate. Like him, I have not yet got an answer, but I would like to give the House one example of how difficult it is to establish the truth. Last week there were certain events in Brighton, and the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and I went down to give our views upon the happenings there. Not even the most unsuspecting reader reading both our articles would have dreamed that we were discussing the same thing, except that occasionally in both articles the magic letters "T.U.C." appeared. I do not quarrel with that—I am all in favour of individual opinion—but somewhere between us there must lie something called truth. The other day it was announced that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) had resigned from the Liberal Party. I read this in the "Daily Herald," which said:His resignation leaves so Liberal M.Ps. in the House.Five or six minutes later I read in the " Daily Mail":The party's strength in the House of Commons is now 11.I turned to the "News Chronicle", which said:Mr. Horabin's resignation reduces the number of Liberal M.Ps. in the House to 10.I went for comfort to "The Times", where I read:The dozen Liberals in the House of Commons have now been reduced to 11.So we had two newspapers saying 10, and two saying In that dilemma, I did the obvious thing. I went to the newspaper that "beavers" for the truth, and brooks no falsehood, that pillar of truth and veracity the "Daily Express." There I got it:His resignation leaves 9.In other words, you pay your money and take your choice. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who was right?"]. I do not know.
462 I have been asked to say precisely what we want this Royal Commission to do. I can give the House in precise language, under five headings, exactly what we would like to see the Royal Commission do. We want them to inquire into the ownership, control and financing of national provincial newspapers, news agencies and periodicals; the extent to which the growth of powerful chains of newspapers is creating a monopoly of newspaper ownership; the ability of independent national and local newspapers and periodicals to withstand increased competition from syndicate companies; the influence of financial and advertising interests on the presentation and suppression of news; finally, the distortion and suppression of essential facts in home and foreign news. That is the task that I would like to see the Royal Commission perform. I, therefore, appeal to all hon. Members, irrespective of party, who believe in an educated democracy and an enlightened electorate, to all who believe in liberty of thought, who believe that liberty of thought is more important than dividends, and that freedom of expression is above price, to support this Motion.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies), who has moved this Motion with such skill and knowledge, began his remarks by describing some of the objectives which this proposal and which a Royal Commission ar4 not intended to secure. I would like to make a few further comments on that point, because it is in that respect that the chief criticisms have been made of this Motion and of those who intend to support it. It has been said in many interested quarters that there is an unworthy motive behind this proposal for an inquiry into newspapers. It has been said, as my hon. Friend has reminded the House, that the proposal is partly due to the excessive sensitivity of Ministers to attacks from daily newspapers, and it is inferred that there is some project afoot for interfering with the legitimate rights of free expression.
There is no basis whatever for those charges. So far as I know, no member of this Government at any time has ever questioned the right of the newspapers to 463 criticise, to complain and to attack. What has happened is something rather different. The newspapers have attacked members of the Government, and the members of the Government have replied and often replied with interest. The situation seems to me to be much the same as that of the, natives of Papua. The natives of Papua were said by the explorers who first reached that island to be a barbarous race of savages, who, when fired upon, had no scruples about retaliating. I believe that to be the situation of the Government. Apparently a new theory has been invented. The theory is that Press Lords may attack Ministers but Ministers may never attack Press Lords. If Press Lords attack Ministers, they are upholding the indefeasible rights of Englishmen; but if Ministers attack Press Lords, then they, are attempting to introduce some totalitarian scheme into this country. That is not the kind of freedom we on this side of the House support. I think it is merely a further illustration of the fact that, among newspaper proprietors, megalomania is an occupational disease.
With regard to the sensitivity of Ministers, it seems to me this Administration is a considerable improvement on the last Administration. There is a story told of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—I imagine the story is apocryphal, but it is also apposite—that when he was preparing his war against Russia after the 1914–18 war, he was asked what he would do if the newspapers objected to the campaign. His reply was given, it is said, in three words, Churchillian words: "Square or squash." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was not able to carry out that proposal 25 years ago. He waited for 25 years; he became Prime Minister during the war, and then he carried out that policy. One newspaper was squashed, another newspaper was disembowelled, and most of the other newspapers were squared during the war by various means. Still, despite all that, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was able to come down to this House during the war and devote large parts of his speeches to denunciation of the crabs and the critics. [An HON, MEMBER: "What about the Lord President"?] I think the Lord President has seen the light. I only hope other hon. Members will follow his 464 example. It only goes to show how a man's character can be changed for the better when he gets into better company.
There is an even simpler way of proving that these charges of wicked designs on the part of the Government and their supporters are untrue. It is not only in this country that there is great concern about monopolistic tendencies in the newspapers. The same concern has arisen, for precisely the same reasons, on the other side of the Atlantic. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras described the details of the decline in the number of newspapers in this country since 1921. In the United States, in the past 25 years the total number of newspapers has been halved, and the situation is such that today in the United States there are 10 whole States in which there are no cities with competing newspapers. That is a situation which has arisen for exactly the same reasons that monopolistic tendencies have gone here. Of course, there are people in the United States concerned about civil liberties, just as there are people in this country concerned about civil liberties. Therefore, a book, and a very important book, was published in the United States three or four months ago by a most eminent and Liberal lawyer. In that book he describes precisely the grounds on which a commission should be appointed. This is what he says:At long last we are learning that the failure of the Government to act can be as detrimental to the rights secured by the First Amendment as an Act of positive interference. Twenty years ago Justice Stone pointed out in a case in the Supreme Court—involving a law to protect apple trees from a cedar tree germ—Justice Stone pointed out that the failure of the State to take action on behalf of the owners of apple trees would have been tantamount to its taking action on behalf of the owners of cedar trees. The owners of Press, radio and movies favour inaction on the part of the Government, because by inaction, those in the saddle can further act to control the market place. Hence inaction deprives the public of its right to hear, see and read. We need Government offence as well as defence in the pursuit of liberty.That is not written by some one smarting under any attack from a Tory newspaper. That is written by one of the most eminent Liberal lawyers in the United States. He concludes his book by making a plea for a Congressional inquiry in the United States into this matter, in almost the same terms which we are advancing in this Motion this afternoon. 465 So far from this being any attempt to interfere with the rights of free expression, it is a plan, or an effort to protect the rights of free expression from the ravages of monopoly and financial privilege. Since the Tory Party have always been such champions of freedom—at least, ever since the General Election of 1945—we cordially invite them to come with us into the Lobby this evening. My hon. Friend has already referred to the speeches made throughout the country by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). The other day the right hon. Gentleman went down to Plymouth. Apparently the Plymouth sea breezes went to his head, because he announced a new policy there. I am sorry he is not in his place, but I give him full credit for his statement. I do not want to do any damage by paying the right hon. Gentleman for Warwick and Leamington any excessive tribute; I do not want to interfere in the delicate negotiations about the leadership of the Conservative Party, which have been proceeding for quite awhile. Speaking for myself—and, of course, I cannot speak for anybody else—I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington is just about the best of the bunch, even though, in the words of Shakespeare,there's small choice in rotten apples.At any rate, this is what the right hon. Gentleman said under the effect of the sea breezes of Plymouth:Our ideal is not concentration of ownership, but to spread it over the widest possible field, and the largest possible number of individuals.Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will come with us into the Lobby this evening, and that others will follow their new leader into the Lobby. I can assure hon. Members on the other side of the House that in the "Aye" Lobby this evening there will be more rejoicing over the one Tory that repenteth, than over the ninety and nine sinners who are quite past redemption. We will welcome him in that Lobby.
I would now like to deal with some of the objections which may be made to this proposal. It may be argued, and has been argued in the newspapers, that there is no danger of monopoly because, in the case of newspapers, the consumer retains 466 a sanction; that the public can take its penny elsewhere, and therefore the whole question may be safely left in the hands of the public. But other private monopolies have grown up without the public having any say in the matter; financial groups have been able to ride roughshod over the will of the public in regard to other matters; therefore, they can do so in respect to newspapers. No one can really imagine it is by the democratic choice of the people of South Wales that they read the "Western Mail" if they want local news. No one can imagine it is by the democratic choice of the people of Plymouth that they can only buy, morning and evening, a Harmsworth paper. No one can imagine it is by the democratic choice of the people of Aberdeen that they have to have their political views censored by Lord Kemsley in London. Therefore, to use the term "democratic choice" in relation to this business, is to deprive the words of all meaning. These decisions, as to which newspapers are to be sustained in different areas, are not made by the people or the public: they are made by the process of financial manipulation. But this argument is still used. It was used in an article on this subject which appeared a few weeks ago in the "Sunday Times", a newspaper owned by Lord Kemsley, and Lord Kemsley's defence—or the defence of Lord Kemsley's editor; it comes to the same thing—was:Everywhere the prizes of success will come to those who win the respect and confidence of the reading public.On that test, the greatest journalist and the most successful proprietor is the person who commands the biggest reading public. Now the person who commands the biggest reading public is that newspaper proprietor, Lord Kemsley, and, therefore, Lord Kemsley's newspaper was paying a touching tribute to Lord Kemsley.
Who is this Lord Kemsley? The public does not know very much about him. They learned a bit more about him the other day, when a speech was made by the Attorney-General and the Attorney-General referred to the "gutter Press," and said Lord Kemsley distorted the news, suppressed the evidence, and used Lord Kemsley's newspapers as a vehicle for expressing the personal political opinions of Lord Kemsley.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
Was that the speech for which the Attorney-General subsequently apologised?
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, the Attorney-General did apologise. He apologised for impugning the professional integrity of Lord Kemsley, if Lord Kemsley thought his professional integrity was impugned. That is what I could not quite understand, because Lord Kemsley's newspapers do distort the news, they do suppress the evidence, they are used as vehicles for the expression of the political opinions of Lord Kemsley. And the word "gutter" is a good old English word which makes its meaning tolerably plain, and, therefore, I cannot understand why the Attorney-General apologised.
If hon. Members ask why I do not say this outside the House of Commons, I would remind them that there are great irregularities in the libel law. There are great defects in the libel law. It is a bad law. I hope it is one of the things this Government will put right. But if any hon. Member on the other side accuses me of cowardice for saying this inside the House of Commons, I would point out that I said it outside this House of Commons two months ago, in a newspaper called the "Tribune," in precisely the words I have used in the House at this present time. If Lord Kemsley wants to take action he can do so. He has not done so yet, and the reason, I would suggest, is that he is afraid too much dirt will come out. If we are to have a Royal Commission, we may as well have a court case as well, if he wants to take action on that subject.
I hope the House will appreciate the point I make. I am not denying the right of Lord Kemsley, if he wishes, to distort the news. I do not think it is possible to devise a law to stop Lord Kemsley from distorting the news which would not also interfere with the legitimate rights of other and reputable newspaper proprietors. But what I do deny is the right of Lord Kemsley to distort the news not only in London but in Aberdeen, Cardiff, Bristol, and other cities.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
On a point of Order. Is not this, Mr. Speaker, in the nature of a direct personal attack on a Member of another 468 place? Is the hon. Member not going far too wide?
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought I had given a Ruling. On a Motion of this kind it is quite impossible not to mention the names of proprietors of these papers. I do not think the hon. Gentleman was making a deliberate personal attack. He was pointing out how these newspapers are conducted. It is the conduct of the newspapers he was criticising.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Further to that point of Order, the hon. Member mentioned the word "dirt" in association with a Member of another place.
§ Mr. Foot
I am most grateful for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to describe Lord Kemsley's affairs in relation to his public position as a newspaper proprietor. I do not think it is possible for any law to stop Lord Kemsley from distorting the news, but I think it would be possible to have a law which would prevent him from having a chain of newspapers in which he could distort the news. If the news is to be distorted in places like Aberdeen, I should think the people of Aberdeen could find someone to do it for themselves. There is no case whatever on grounds of freedom why chain newspapers should be allowed to exist. These chain newspapers have not been built up by the choice of the public. They have been built up by financial manipulation, and it is successful financial manipulation which has decided how big the leadership of these newspapers shall be. The result is that the editor in Aberdeen has to print the same kind of stuff as the editor of the "Daily Graphic" in London, if, indeed, that newspaper has an editor at all.
Therefore, I say that the main purpose of this Royal Commission should be to inquire into the operation of chain newspapers, and to devise a law to prevent the spreading of these chain newspapers, and to break up the chains that already exist. It is perfectly possible to secure lawyers who will devise such a law, but there are persons who say that the difficulties would be so great in such an enterprise that the present position is not sufficiently dangerous to warrant us starting upon that course. We have to consider not only the present situation, but the future. The present situation is bad enough, but we are not going to stand 469 still where we are. This process is going to go on. There are some people who imagine that there are going to be no further amalgamations—that it is all going to stop exactly as it is. I think that is the position with the "News Chronicle." I hope that we are going to have the support of the Liberal Party in fighting monopolies tonight. But the "News Chronicle" is very tender about this subject. In the last 25 years, this newspaper amalgamated with two other newspapers. That may account for their view. But the process of monopoly is not going to stand still just where it stands today, no matter what the "News Chronicle" or anyone else thinks.
If anybody doubts this, let me take a practical example of what would actually occur in this country in the next 10 years, say, if no positive action were taken following this Royal Commission inquiry. There are a good many people in this House who regard the "Manchester Guardian" as the finest newspaper in this country; I subscribe to that view. The "Manchester Guardian" is financially dependent for its position on its connection with the "Manchester Evening News." In Manchester, the competition to the "Manchester Evening News" is provided by a Kemsley newspaper, and the "Manchester Evening News" is well able to hold its own. But suppose, after all the restrictions are removed from the newspapers, that Lord Beaverbrook were to start an evening newspaper in Manchester, as is quite possible? Suppose then we had a situation in Manchester where the "Manchester Evening News," with a very small accumulation of financial power, had to fight two huge combines, with all the power which they possess from the accumulation of resources all over the country. Who would be likely to win that battle? It is very probable that the "Manchester Evening News" would go down, and if the "Manchester Evening News "went down, then the "Manchester Guardian" too, would go down, and if that were to happen, it would be a tragic day, not only for Manchester, and not only for England.
This process of monopoly is not receding. It is getting worse. During the war, newspapers have made huge profits. They have built up great financial resources. They have undertaken large advertising 470 campaigns. The "Daily Express" has had exhibitions at the Albert Hall, reading rooms where one can read the provincial papers, and a touring "Brains Trust." It is not all being done by this panel of gentlemen whose names I read in the newspaper this morning, in an attempt to raise the cultural standards of the British people. It did not cost the "Daily Express" much, either. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a handsome contributor to all this enterprise. But there has been an enormous accumulation of financial power by these newspapers during the war, and if no action is taken following this Royal Commission inquiry, these financial resources are going to be unloosed on the newspaper market, and the people who will suffer are going to be all those independent newspapers that cannot stand the blast. Therefore, there is no matter of doubt about this question. It is a certainty; the process has been going on steadily for 20 or 30 years, and it will continue to go on unless this House takes action as the protector of freedom and the enemy of monopoly.
But, like my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, I support this proposal not only in the interests of the public but also as a journalist. As a journalist, I think there has been a serious decline in the quality of British journalism in the past 30 years, and I believe it is traceable to one cause. It is due to the decline in the power of the editor, and the encroachment of the authority of the newspaper proprietor. Thirty years ago, many of the great editors of the great dailies were well known people throughout the country. Today, very few of their names are known; in fact, many of them are little more than stooges, cyphers and sycophants. That change reflects something very important; it is not accidental, it is not insignificant. It reflects a great change of power, and so great is the menace that some newspapers—among them the best newspapers in the land—have already recognised that a new form of proprietorship is needed. Therefore, in the case of the "Manchester Guardian," "The Times," the "Yorkshire Post," I believe, the "Economist," and some other papers as well, there is a new system of proprietorship which protects the authority of the editor and prevents the possibility of amalgamation. I think that is an excellent development. 471 It is a development which should be described and inquired into by the Royal Commission to see how it could be encouraged, and I believe that it would be perfectly possible to contrive financial and competitive advantages and inducements which would assist the extension of that very desirable system of ownership of newspapers.
As I say, I speak not only as a member of the public but as a journalist, and journalism has contributed great things to this country. Indeed, there have been times when this House of Commons itself became an instrument of tyranny, and the only bulwark of freedom left was in the hands of journalists, and those writing books and in the Press. There have been great names in British history which have been those of journalists, and in modern times there have been men who have fought to sustain that tradition. Men like C. P. Scott, who has been mentioned, Henry Nevinson, A. G. Gardner, G. K. Chesterton, and Henry Noel Brailsford. Those are the real journalists, the men who maintained the great traditions of British journalism, but they have, in the past 20 or 30 years, been fighting a losing battle against increasing odds. Therefore, it is the business of this House of Commons to come to their support, and I believe that if this House today will vote for this Royal Commission, and if action and legislation can be prepared. following the inquiries of that Royal Commission, this Parliament will have added yet another great service to the eternal cause of English freedom.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member who moved this Motion, in his introductory speech, made some complimentary remarks about the lethal quality of my oratory. I assure him, and you, Mr. Speaker, that my only desire in approaching this subject is to destroy pretences and endeavour to strip the matter of unessential concomitants. This Motion makes four assumptions, and it is right that every hon. Member of the House should realise what those assumptions are, before he decides his attitude towards it. The first is that there is a growth in monopolistic tendencies in the control of the Press; the second, that there is an increasing public concern at 472 this; the third, that free expression of opinion through the Press is limited, and the fourth, that the accuracy of the presentation of news is open to challenge. Not a word that we have heard in either of the speeches to which we have just listened, has withdrawn anything from the strength and force of those imputations, and it is those imputations on the Press which this House has to examine today—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear"]—before it considers whether a prima facie case has been established, because without a prima facie case the hon. Gentleman who said "Hear, hear," would, I am sure, be the last to suggest that any subject of His Majesty should be harried by any proceedings of any kind.
I noted with great interest that the mover of this Motion condescended to detail about the terms of reference of this Commission. I noted with even greater interest that there was not, as far as I could judge from listening to him, one phrase or one word which could cover, or which mentioned or involved the resolution, of which all of us have heard, of the National Union of Journalists, as to the issue of the closed shop in the profession. That was a matter with which the mover of the Motion was obviously not concerned. Before we consider the two admirable examples of King's evidence as to journalism which the speeches of the mover and seconder have given us, I should like to ask the House to consider the background of Governmental action which we have to this problem, because it is curious, and, of course, deserving of high consideration. On 30th April of this year the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), whose name is appended, I think, to this Motion, asked a Question of the Prime Minister, and, whatever else is clear, it is obvious that it was not the resolution of the National Union of Journalists which has caused the Government to change its view with regard to an inquiry, because the hon. Member for Maldon asked the Prime Minister if he had considered the resolution of the National Union of Journalists urging the setting up of a Royal Commission, and the right hon. Gentleman was quite flatfooted against that. He said:I have given careful consideration to this proposal, which, however, I do not see my way to adopt."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 30th April 1946; Vol. 422, c. 29.]473 That was on 30th April. By 16th July the Lord President of the Council had given utterance to a different point of view. He said, as all the House will remember:All great channels for the dissemination of information to the public would, the Government believe, benefit from having their state of health examined by an independent inquiry from time to time, and we do not exclude the Press from that consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1946; Vol. 425, C. 1084.]On being pressed by my hon. Friends the right hon. Gentleman said that that was an expression of Government policy. In my search for the reason for that change of policy, I cannot help being impressed by the utterance of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President at Lewisham on 9th July, only a week before he gave vent to this change of policy. There he expressed, I do not say in unmeasured terms, but in the terms of strength which we expect from the right hon. Gentleman, his dislike of any Press and any newspaper which criticised the extent of the regimentation and restrictions, and the rushed legislation, which he considered necessary to deal with the difficulties of the country at the time. That was largely directed against the Kemsley Press. Such was its effect that the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), one of his own party, put it in these words, which I am sure will commend themselves to all his fellow Members. He was referring to the right hon. Gentleman when he used these words:Why, then, did he drag in the Press? I hope the true answer is not, as his enemies suggest, that Mr. Morrison is hyper-sensitive to Press criticism, and that he is accordingly warning his newspaper critics, after the manner of an unlamented late dictator, that his patience is nearly exhausted. Power corrupts, we know, but we must hope that it is not corrupting our chief London democrat, so that we shall be driven in sorrow to ask him:Upon what meat does this our Caesar feed That he has grown so great?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am quoting from an article which was written by the hon. Member for Shoreditch.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
It is a large Conservative newspaper which every week always puts a column at the disposal of a Labour contributor.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Hon. Members will bear in mind the words of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman used the words "Suppressions, misrepresentations and inventions." Two days afterwards, the right hon. and learned Attorney-General used practically the same terms in the same connection. He said:They distort the facts; they suppress the news upon which free opinions can be freely formed. They refrain from publishing information which might conflict with their particular opinions.And so the law was hard on the heels of the prophet. On 11th August, however, these charges disappeared, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman apologised in the most full and complete terms, and made the most full and complete withdrawal. He said, in relation to the words I have quoted—intentionally destroying and suppressing facts: "I can assure you that I did not intend to make any of these imputations upon you. If any words of mine appear to make them, I desire unreservedly to withdraw them." He has repeated that apology he made to Lord Kemsley to Lord Beaverbrook, and, surely, the right hon. Gentleman, the Eminence Rouge of the Labour Party, if I may so term him, does not persist in what his legal Eminence Gris has so fully withdrawn. Of course, I should be the last to depend on any admissions of any of the right hon. Gentleman, because charges easily made and easily withdrawn I suppose can be as easily made again.
I should like to consider the next stage which this matter took, the frontal attack having been hurled back in a cloud of apology. The flank attack is developed by one of those blessed words" monopoly"—the meaning of which it is hoped will never be fully investigated. It is the most effective word when used out of its proper sense. Monopoly, as far as I have understood it, connotes that the choice between alternative sources of supply is denied with the usual results of higher prices. As against that, the P.E.P. survey, which has been mentioned, shows that the choice is exercised everywhere 475 in the morning between a far wider selection of purposes than ever before. It is a cold fact that increased costs allow only the most efficient newspapers to make both ends meet. I should be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman were to say that the elimination of the inefficient was monopoly, because I have recollections of the time when the right hon. Gentleman used to pray powerfully that we should be delivered from "private unenterprise." The only limitation of entry is the shortage of paper. It is common knowledge that there is not sufficient paper at the present time for morning and evening papers.
The choice is in the hands of the public, and it is not without interest to look at the papers which are available today. As far as national papers are concerned, following the mover of this Motion, I quote from an article in the "Economist" which deals with this subject. It stated:The London morning dailies were divided between seven independent groups representing all shades of opinion.If one arranges them broadly into supporters of the Government—I always allow the right hon. Gentleman his joke as to the "Daily Worker" being a supporter of himself—we have "The Times," "Daily Herald," "News Chronicle," "Daily Worker" and "Daily Mirror," with a circulation of 7,470,003 for the Government, and if we arrange them broadly into those which are critics, we have the "Daily Express," the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Telegraph" and the "Daily Graphic" with a circulation of 7,655,000. Therefore, as far as the national dailies are concerned. there is equality at the present day. Now I come to the question of the provincial dailies, which was raised by the mover and seconder of the Motion. I made the figure 25. The difference between the mover and myself is that I am grouping Scottish and Welsh papers with provincial papers. There are 25 at the present time, and they include papers such as the "Birmingham Post," the "Yorkshire Post," the "Scotsman," the "Glasgow Herald," the "Manchester Guardian," the "Liverpool Daily Post" and several others. More than half of them—let us get the facts first—are independently controlled, and the remainder are divided between four groups of owners.
476 The hon. Member who seconded the Motion mentioned the town of Aberdeen. I, too, should like to mention that town, because it happens to be the town from which my father came, and a town with which I am extremely familiar. It was rather the burden of the hon. Member's song. The position in Aberdeen is a very good example. It is quite true that the locally produced paper belongs to a group, or chain, but into Aberdeen there go at present no fewer than five other Scottish dailies of varying ownership. There is also a proposal at the moment for two other newspapers to establish production in Scottish cities. They, also, will be able to bring in slightly localised editions, which other newspapers do, and which will find their public there. After all, let us try to get at the problem with which we are dealing. Provincial morning newspapers have a total circulation of under 3,000,000. I am taking only the papers that are sympathetic to Members opposite. The "People" now sell 4,500,000; the "Sunday Pictorial," 2,500,000; "Reynolds News," 630,000, and the "News of the World," which is a non-political paper, has now announced a circulation of 7,500,000. Yet the mover and seconder of the Motion nearly wept tears because there were provincial morning papers with a circulation of under 3,000,000 which dared to take views which were different from that great mass of Sunday newspapers. It does not stop there. "Reynolds News" is not by any means the only flower of the Cooperative movement's slimmer. There are at least eight weeklies and monthlies and, in addition to the "Cooperative Review," there is "The Wheatsheaf," which has a circulation of 1,250,000 per month. The suggestion which is implicit in this attack, that the Left Wing are not represented, is really fallacious and does not accord with the facts.
Again, the mover and seconder mentioned provincial evening newspapers. As I make it, there are 79 evening dailies, taking London and the provinces together, with a circulation of about 9,000,000. These, again, are distributed very widely between independent holders and differing groups. But, apart from that—and neither the mover nor seconder mentioned it—there is in this country an immense number of weekly papers, long established, with, great local bases, and great local support. There are no fewer 477 than 1,260, with an approximate capital structure of £25 million behind them. But, although there are 1,260 papers dealing with every part of the country, they are not sufficiently within the purview of the mover and seconder for them to have mentioned a word about them. In addition, there is a great mass of specialist papers. Let us see how the country is served. There is a separate paper for undertakers, one for pawnbrokers, and one for free thinkers. The bakers, naturally, have 13 papers for themselves, and the engineers 66. You have a great picture of papers provided for all varying opinions and tastes. It is the whole of this structure which this Motion attacks, and asks this House to condemn.
Now let me face up to what the mover and seconder have said, because we want to deal with the facts. The seconder said that he was here to make attacks on the proprietors of the Press. Let us consider one aspect of it, which ought to appeal to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) as one of the best known contributors to the Press. Take Mr. Bartholomew, who is the chairman and principal figure of the papers which are sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman and his friends—the "Daily Mirror" and the "Sunday Pictorial." He is a man who has worked his way up in journalism. Lord Camrose is the same; Lord Kemsley is the same; Lord Beaverbrook is the same, and Sir Walter Layton is the same. It is not without interest, or importance, that you have, in this country, as proprietors, your main figures, people who are trained and have the background of journalism, and not of some extraneous industry from which they have pitch-forked themselves into newspaper control in order to advance a financial interest. The only paper that is outside the control is the "Daily Herald." As is well known Odhams own 51 per cent. of the shares. I do not want to make cheap points about the fact that Mr. Cousins has no journalistic background—I want to get down to something which is more important—but under the articles of association specific and detailed provisions are made in the case of the "Daily Herald" to safeguard, for all time, its political and industrial policy. Its policy and outlook must be that of the Labour and trade union movement. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council that it is a luxury we Conservatives never 478 had when in office, that a movement which constitutes a Government, has a paper of its own which it can control all the time.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman much to complain about regarding the meticulous faithfulness to the Conservative Central Office of the "Daily Telegraph"? Has he much to complain about regarding the faithfulness of the "Morning Post"? Was there not some tie-up with the Conservative Party?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
It is quite true that our policy was so good that we did not—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."1 It is always a sign of a good comment when the right hon. Gentleman gets on to his feet. I have sat in the House long enough to know that a good point has been made if the right hon. Gentleman rises. I want him to remember this: Can anyone really say that there is public concern when the remedy is in the hands of the public to take their pennies or twopences, and buy elsewhere? I submit that the use of the word "monopoly" is an abuse of words in connection with a subject where you have this variety of choice. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to say so in the kindest and most Pickwickian sense, is a little fond of arrogating to himself the role of Humpty Dumpty. Let me remind him of what Humpty Dumpty said. "When I use a word,"—one can imagine him saying in rather a scornful tone" it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "Which is the master—that's all." Lewis Carroll said that Alice was puzzled. We, on these Benches, are not puzzled a bit. We understand entirely the conception of the use of monopoly as a big stick, which will make a great deal of sound and little sense.
The hon. Gentleman, who has spoken, has mentioned the drawbacks of chain ownership—the fear that when the owner says "Turn," everyone turns, and the fear that the owner's interests may be purely commercial. There is a different kind of "personalism"—to use a modern phrase—when it is applied in the 479 case of chain newspapers and when it is applied—and no one had a greater policy of "personalism" than Mr. C. P. Scott—to one paper. That was a point which the hon. Member who seconded the Motion developed for some time—the extraordinary difference that "personalism" assumes when you apply it to three papers—or six papers—with a daily circulation of so many, and when you apply it to one paper published in three different places, which may have an even greater circulation than the other three. What neither the mover nor the seconder mentioned was the other side of the medal. They never mentioned that these papers were acquired in the open market, that people could have refrained from buying, or, over a long period, could have started, as was done in certain places, in opposition—and the circulation of these papers has in fact increased. Nor did either of them explain how a Royal Commission was going to make it cheaper for anyone to start a paper in opposition to those already existing. They did not mention other matters, which, for example, the President of the Institute of Journalists mentioned in discussing this problem, matters which have been mentioned by many other people and other periodicals who have endeavoured to achieve a slightly more objective approach—that papers are better produced; that they have access to a more complete source of news; that papers which, in the past, could not possibly have done it, have now access to 25 resident and 30 mobile foreign correspondents, and numerous other matters of that kind.
Anyone who knows the organisation of the Press abroad, as well as the Press at home, must realise that in these fields, and in the fields of mechanical equipment, the mere fact of being able to spread overheads must have a result. I hope that the hon. Member for Maldon, who I understand desires an opportunity of intervening in this Debate, will explain this point to me: Why is there this pother or bother—whichever is the more appropriate journalese to describe a sensation—when you have two or three or more papers in a group, and when you have a paper which is published in London, Manchester and Glasgow, and has an enormous circulation of its own? I would like to appreciate why the hon. 480 Members who are putting this Motion make these great distinctions. The right hon. and learned Attorney-General was more sweeping. He attacked every paper that had a large circulation, so long as its views disagreed with his own. That, of course, is a quite understandable point of view, but it is not a point of view that will really carry to its logical conclusions a Motion like the one before the House.
I want to deal, if the House will bear with me, with two other points which have been made: One is the question of free expression of opinion. I suggest that the picture which I have given of the Press is, in itself, sufficient argument for the fact that opinion will be freely held. I would point out in the case of the "Daily Herald," as I have already indicated, and in the case of the "Daily Worker," according to the report which is in all our hands, and in the case of the "Daily Mirror" and "Sunday Pictorial" that, as we know, there are shareholders of many kinds who will ultimately have their say in the conduct and expression of views. If there is ample opportunity for all opinions to be expressed, it would be interesting—and perhaps some hon. Member will explain this curious fact Press—to know why the papers of the Right are most ready and willing to open their columns to Left wing contributors. There are not only the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle) and Mr. Nat Gubbins, two famous Left wing figures, but there was a feature in the "Daily Mail" in which, I understand, hon. Members opposite were peculiarly interested. The other day, in the "Sunday Times," a Kemsley paper, there was an article on the Trades Union Congress, not by the hon. Member sitting behind me today, but by Mr. Arthur Pugh, a most distinguished member of the trade union movement. I may be unlucky, but I have never seen in the "Daily Herald" or the "Daily Worker" or the "News Chronicle" any of our Right wing figures being allowed or pressed to express their views. We do not see in the fact that a newspaper of the Left closes not only its editorial but other feature pages to us, a reason for a Royal Commission in order to stop them doing so. What is really wanted, and what is behind this Motion, is not freedom of expression at all; hon. Members want to saddle the country with a number of papers of their own way of thinking. 481 Let us take it, again, on the basis of news and comment; it is suggested, without a word of evidence being produced by either the mover or the seconder of the Motion, that the famous dictum of C. P. Scott that whereas comment is free news is sacred, is being neglected at the present time.
I have waited to hear whether this evidence would be forthcoming. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will be."] I would like to put one or two points to hon. Members, and to make it all the easier for them, because they will be able to answer those points, if they have any material, which I very much doubt. The very growth of circulation has made it much more difficult for any newspaper to "doctor" the news. I am not throwing brickbats or bouquets, but am trying to get at the facts. Hon. Members have been throwing bouquets to themselves and brickbats at the Press, but I would point out to them that when there were newspapers with small circulations, when newspapers hibernated in a locality, it was much more easy to distort the news than it is when one is in the flow of big circulations, competing with other newspapers of large circulation, and all the time with the B.B.C.'s news bulletins functioning at the same time.
The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion, if not also the hon. Member who moved it, made some rather deprecatory remarks on the position of journalists, and one of the hon. Members mentioned that journalists have come into a state of subservience. I genuinely cannot accept that, even from two distinguished members of the profession. If Lord Kemsley or any other newspaper proprietor were to suggest—there is no evidence that it has been suggested—that news should be "doctored," I do not believe that the run of journalists at the present day would be a party to it. Let hon. Members consider the process of newspaper production. The idea of the newspaper proprietor sitting at the centre of a spider's web, and saying, "Publish this and do not publish that," is really fantastic and far from reality. You would have to take in the news editor, the whole newsroom, the subeditors, and apart from all that, the news comes in so fast—and it has to be tasted by the news editor before it goes into the newspaper—that this idea of the remote control deciding the actual news that will go in is one which, I submit, is too fan- 482 tastic to be pressed. In view of the attack on the profession of journalism which has been contained in the two speeches to which we have listened, I wish to put my view, not in my own words, but in far better words than my own—the words of the hon. Gentleman who is now Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, and who was formerly Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He put the position of the British journalist, as I deem it to be, when he said:In matters of personal integrity the British journalist is admittedly above reproach Unlike some of his Continental colleagues, he cannot be bribed directly, and is seldom caught by the indirect bribery of expensive luncheons, flattery, and so on. What he puts into the paper or leaves out is dictated solely by journalistic considerations, of which the greatest is news value, and the sense of what constitutes news is the journalist's greatest gift.I commend to the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Motion the somewhat steadier views which were given out from their own Front Bench. Again, I am not concerned, on this question of the news, by the fact, to which the "Spectator" drew attention last week, that one of our Debates was reported in the "Daily Herald" in the proportion of 89 to 11 in favour of the Labour Party, whereas the HANSARD percentage was 55 to 45 against Labour. That, to my mind, is simply not a matter which would justify a Royal Commission, because a Royal Commission would not put things like that right. As was said in the article to which I have referred, no one can impose conditions on a paper in regard to its reporting; this must be left to its conscience, even if it has not got one. In the case of political objectivity—I am sure that, for once, I shall get the assent of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot)—the ordinary view of political objectivity is an accurate account written from our point of view. We shall not really get much further than that, however well we try.
The House has been most kind to a returned wanderer, and I do not want to impose upon that kindness. Our view on these benches on the question of monopolies is that an inquiry into a monopoly or a restrictive practice is a good thing when a prima facie case has been made out for that inquiry. We say that no prima facie case has been made out, and no suggestion or anything within miles 483 of a prima facie case has been made out on this point. It is not enough, in order to get an inquiry in this country—and it should never be enough—merely that certain people have hurled abuse or made allegations, or been thinskinned against hostile comment. But my opposition is based on something other than that. Indubitably, the acceptance of the request for an inquiry will create doubt and suspicions in the minds of the public here at home as to the essential integrity of the Press, and still more it will arouse dangerous suspicions in other countries. The hon. Member for Devonport was not, I am sure, so pleased when the Front Bench, which he follows with so much loyalty and avidity, were twitted the other day with the Attorney-General's remarks about the freedom of the British Press by M. Molotov. That is the way it comes back. A garbled allegation unsupported by evidence returns and bites the appropriate portion of those whom the hon. Gentleman is following.
Although comparisons are odious, it is necessary that we should look abroad. Before the war—and still less now—few countries claimed that their Press was free, or even desired to claim that their Press was free in the sense in which we understand it. In some cases the Press, or part of it, was in Government ownership, under Government control, and subject to Governmental direction. With one possible exception, to which I have referred, this cannot be said of any newspaper in Great Britain. It might be said of certain organs abroad that they were owned by foreign capital and foreign investors. Again, with one possible exception, that cannot be said about any newspaper here. It might be said that industrial interests, directly or surreptitiously, have control of certain newspapers abroad. That cannot be said of any newspaper in Great Britain. It is sad, but true, that over a large area of the world today the freedom of the Press is unknown, and populations are allowed to read only what their Governments determine.
Even if one were to accept—as I do not, for the reasons I have given—all that the hon. Gentleman has said, the British Press shines forth as an example of freedom and independence. The mover and seconder have denied the wish to take a 484 temporary political advantage in endeavouring, by allegations with which I have dealt, to try to shake the faith of the people who can and will pay their money and take their chance in newspapers which attack their policy, party, and Government. I remind them of the words of the old journalists' song:The Pope may launch his interdict, The Union its decree, But the bubble is blown, the bubble is pricked, By us and such as we.When he comes to address the House the right hon. Gentleman can say musically, and indeed correctly, "I'm forever blowing bubbles," and I think he will agree that it is not a bad thing that the more gaseous, even of his bubbles, should occasionally be pricked and come down to earth. To me, as the mover has mentioned, it has been given as to few others to tabulate the rise of totalitarianism. The first and most obvious sign of an authoritarian regime has been intolerance of opposition. Already one has heard two right hon. Gentlemen in that vein; one has referred to opposition as "intimidation," the other as "sabotage," and now it is desired to curb a hostile Press. The best appellation of the Press I have ever found is, "King over all the children of pride," and the destruction which this exhibition of pride anticipates is something more serious than the fall of an administration. It is an attempt to destroy that tolerance of opposition which is the lifeblood of working democracy.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker (Smethwick)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) made a very admirable and lawyer-like speech in which, I was interested to notice, he spoke for a great deal of the time of the Press as if it were a commodity on the market like shoes or biscuits. He talked about it being cheaper to spread overheads and so on, which seems to me to miss one of the most important aspects of the subject under discussion, namely, that we are not here dealing with just a commodity but with power—power over people's minds, power over the news without which they cannot form their opinions. I was also struck by the point he made that he could not understand the difference between personalism in a single newspaper and personalism in a large number of news- 485 papers. That seems to me to be exactly the same difference as between a party leader and a dictator, or between a Prime Minister and a dictator. It is a distinction that seems very easy indeed to understand.
I hope that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the House will excuse me one brief personal word, because in speaking here I am in a position which may be thought to be slightly anomalous. I now enjoy—if enjoy is the right word—a position in which I might be thought to have some inkling of what is in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. As everyone knows, he is sitting here impartially, listening to this Debate to make up his mind according to the way it goes. [Laughter.] Hon Gentlemen who laugh have, I think, an exaggerated view of the simplemindedness of my right hon. Friend. In these circumstances, I was in some doubt as to whether I should try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in order to speak in favour of the Motion, as I intend to do. On the other hand, my name has been on the Order Paper ever since the day this Motion was first put down. And I honestly do not know which way the Lord President is going to jump, so I want to add my voice to those which are trying to persuade him to come down in favour of a Royal Commission.
It has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby that our motive in supporting this Motion is fear and dislike of the Press that attacks us, and indeed a very large part of his argument made that assumption. If that assumption is knocked away, a very great deal of his argument falls to the ground, like the bubble he spoke of that is pricked. I agree with him, and it is clear to anyone who looks into the facts, that since circulation was recently freed there has been a much fairer distribution between the papers that, roughly speaking, support the Government, and those which attack them, at any rate amongst the national dailies. No one who goes into the facts could possibly argue that there is a serious disability of the Government in this respect. Then there are the engaging anomalies to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to, such as the presence of Low in the "Evening Standard," which are a great credit to our Press in Britain. There is no question of 486 fearing or disliking attack. On the whole we give as good as we get in the Press. The motives for supporting this Motion are quite different.
They are, first, that we really do want a free Press, and, secondly, that we find as we look at the Press today that the standards of journalism are slipping to the point at which the freedom of the Press is being endangered. I hasten to say that this is not limited to the Press of the Opposition. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there are many things throughout the entire popular Press today that are very bad and that disclose a very serious slipping of standards. I think this evil is deeper rooted and wider spread in the Press of the Right, but I certainly do not think it is limited to the Press of the Right. I feel that some of the things the right hon. and learned Gentleman said against the Press of the Left were very good arguments in favour of a Royal Commission, though, of course, speaking to his brief, he had to disclaim it every time he produced a good argument of that sort.
An example of the way in which standards are slipping and endangering the true freedom of the Press is the very gross departure in recent years from that precept which was quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and which will doubtless be mentioned several times again in the course of this Debate. The true quotation is:Facts are sacred, comment is free.I think that is the fundamental distinction between journalism as a profession and journalism as a racket, and we are departing more and more from this basic precept. One has only to open any popular national paper today and he is very lucky if he finds a report that does not contain comment mixed up with news. There has also been the development of the mendacious, misleading headline, as a trick of journalism. There was one the other day which was to this effect: "U.S. food prices drop as control is lifted." That was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, because unless one had facts that were deliberately not disclosed in the story one could not get to the bottom of what was happening.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Could the hon. Member tell the House, in connection with these headlines which give wrong information, how in the world a 487 Royal Commission is going to deal with that?
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I will come to that in a moment. I was about to say in connection with this headline that although, of course, the prices had in fact dropped, they had not dropped by as much as they had risen the day before. It was a true statement, but it was deliberately misleading. This departure from the basic precepts of good journalism is a symptom of the very serious increase in the freedom of the Press Lords, and of the decrease in the freedom of the Press. The freedom of the Press is a complex thing. It is certainly much more than the freedom of the proprietor. It involves the freedom of the editor and, in certain respects, of the reporter. It certainly also involves the freedom of the citizen to have a fair and reasonably free choice of papers of different hues and capacities.
There is a lot of evidence of suppression of facts and distortion of facts; worst of all, of journalists being sent out with instructions to find facts to fit a story. They are quite definitely told the story they have to get and they must find facts for it. That is the absolute opposite of all that constitutes decent, good journalism. Many of these things are now being talked about quite openly by those who know. When such things are said about our Press it is high time there was an inquiry into the Press.
Now I come to the point, What can be done by a Royal Commission, given that those allegations are true? For certain things, there are legal remedies. That is one of the reasons why one wants a Royal Commission and to have these matters looked into. There may be legal remedies for some abuses while for others there cannot be legal remedies, because legal remedies would do more harm in the destruction of ordinary liberties. That is not an argument against an inquiry, but seems to me to be one of the strongest arguments in favour of an inquiry. There is only one remedy left, publicity. It is the remedy which the Press uses for all the abuses but its own, and it cannot use it for its own abuses. If we are to use the remedy of publicity, which the Press rightly uses against all other abuses in the country, and use it against the Press itself, that can be done only by some such inquiry as we are now advocating.
488 A fair report upon the health of the Press by an impartial inquiry would be an enormous gain to the public, who should know what is happening. It would be a very fine thing if there were regular inquiries at intervals of five, or 10 years. If it were known that such inquiries were to be held a lot of the abuses would not occur. It would be a serious deterrent if it were known that inevitably there would be a very good chance of the abuses being brought to the public gaze every five, or 10 years, or whatever period of years we decided to take.
On the whole, everyone in this House should be in favour of this inquiry, unless he has a bad conscience and thinks that something has to be hidden. Those who believe that the Press is good and fine and who have heard the arguments and the allegations that have been made and been brought forward by journalists, ought to jump at an inquiry to clear the Press of those very serious allegations. Mud has been thrown, and the mud is sticking. The public, and foreign peoples know just as much today as they will after an inquiry. Those who think that the Press shows symptoms of ill-health think that an overwhelming case exists for an inquiry. I hope that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will join in pressing on my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council the virtues and merits of appointing a Royal Commission of this sort.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
It is the custom of this House to give a patient hearing to any Member who claims to have special knowledge on the subject of any Debate. It is with modesty that I make that claim, and I hope that the House will be patient with me. By profession I am a journalist. I am proud of my profession, and deeply proud to have exercised that profession in the British Press. The three speeches we have heard from the other side of the House seemed unworthy of the great traditions of this House. I shall endeavour to be as little controversial as possible in putting the case why I think this House will injure its own dignity far more than it will injure the Press if it agrees to the preposterous proposals now before it.
We have heard explanations of how this proposal did not originate. The Lord 489 President of the Council has been cleared of any charge of ordering his strong-arm squad to put the Motion on the Order Paper. Of course, the Lord President did not do that; he is far too cunning. It is possible for a man in authority to drop a hint in order to let it be known that he would not be displeased if such a thing occurred. I suggest to the House that the Lord President did let it be known and that his boys, being courtiers anxious to please the king and anxious for future favours, duly did what the Lord President of the Council wanted. If I do the Lord President of the Council an injustice no doubt he is quite able to look after himself.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
This Motion was framed for the National Union of Journalists Conference, before this Government was ever returned. How can it have been inspired by the Lord President of the Council?
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman is very vehement. He is a lawyer, accustomed to deal with the truth in one form or another. I suggest that the Motion was not framed before the existence of this Government. Is it suggested that, in the Coalition Government days, when most of the Members responsible were not Members of this House, they composed this Motion? I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. Baxter
Surely this Motion has not been put down at the instance of a trade union? Is this House to believe that its Members put Motions on the Paper which are dictated to them by some trade union leader? If so, it is high time we took action to prevent this House from becoming an ante-room to the Trades Union Congress.
It is much easier for a Government to govern without Press criticism. Hitler and Mussolini did away with Press criticism. A totalitarian mentality such as has exhibited itself today cannot exist without first curbing the liberties of the Press and then making it totally enslaved to the Government. One or two hon. Members opposite have used this argu- 490 ment: If the newspapers have done no wrong and have nothing to conceal, what possible harm can come from the setting up of a Royal Commission?
I would put this point to the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker) who spoke before me. I imagine that he supports that point of view. I will put a purely impersonal supposition. because I do not know anything about his domestic life. Suppose his neighbours said to him, "We are going to set up an inquiry by the community into the private life of your wife. After all, if there is nothing against her what possible harm can there be in holding an inquiry?"
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
If there were libels about the private life of my wife, she would have a remedy in the courts. There are libels about the Press, but the remedy of going to the courts is not available. The corresponding remedy would be a Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Baxter
Yes, but the fact is that all the accusers today have been saying that if there is nothing, and there probably is nothing, then there is probably no harm in this proposal. But the very fact that a Royal Commission is set up to investigate the activities of the Press is, prima facie, a vote of censure on the Press and a definite warning that something is going to be done to it that it will not like. I say, therefore, that argument does not hold water for a moment. Mr. Cummings, a very distinguished journalist, in the "News Chronicle" this morning suggested that perhaps one of the reasons was the jealousy of hon. Members of this House for the Press. I do not know what there is in that. I know that many hon. Members feel that the Press does not give sufficient space to their speeches. I will say to some of the hon. Members of this House, and perhaps quite a number, that one does not become a Pericles merely by becoming a Member of this House. This House itself is significant, but a great many persons are able to become Members of this House, and many times the Press is merciful in omitting some of the speeches made by hon. Members. Maybe the Royal Commission will deal with that question of speeches from men not intended by God and nature to make speeches.
What was the situation when the General Election took place? One of the 491 cases made is the twisting and perversion of news in order to tune in with the political whims and wishes of the proprietor. What did we in the Tory Party have in the way of support? We had the cold embrace of "The Times" with lips like ice. We had in the "Sunday Distemper," the "Observer," Lady Astor's disapproval of our leader. We had Lord Beaverbrook and the "Daily Express" running a private General Election on their own on Empire free trade. Lord Beaverbrook is an Empire man, and he ran a private election on Empire policy in which neither the Government party nor ourselves were mentioned very much. So he was out of it to that extent. The "Daily Mirror," a capitalist organisation, switched over and urged all Jane's fighting men to vote for the Socialists. They did. The "News Chronicle" honourably stood by to pronounce the burial service for the Liberal Party and fought the Liberal cause. Really, what did we have for solid support—[HON. MEMBERS: "All the hoardings and the B.B.C."] We had the hoardings, if you like. But the B.B.C.? That is not our impression. But we had the "Daily Telegraph" and Lord Kemsley's newspapers solidly on our side. What did the Socialists have—[An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Member for Woodford."] I am talking about the Press. I say there was very little in it; if anything, the Socialist Party had the better of the Press situation.
Since it could not have been the line-up at the Election which brought this demand for an inquiry, what is the next point that has so interested the Lord President's snoopers? Is it the ownership of the Press which is worrying the hon. Gentlemen opposite? We haw heard a good deal about it today. The facts are already known. The Royal Commission does not have to make any inquiries as to who owns what or why. Colonel Astor owns "The Times," Lord and Lady Astor own the "Observer," Lord Camrose owns the "Telegraph," Lord Beaverbrook is the biggest shareholder of his group, and Lord Rothermere is not the biggest shareholder in his group although he has the influences by which he can control it. And so we go through. Then we come to the Government Press. We have heard from my right hon. and learned Friend 492 the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) about the "Daily Herald." The "Daily Herald" is in a very odd position. Its body is owned by a capitalist combine, and its soul by the T.U.C. Therefore we have one unbending supporter of the Government, from whose side this demand has come, a paper owned and directed by the Left and the Right Wing, an autocracy of the Left and a capitalist combine of the Right.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Surely the very fact that the hon. Member is stressing—that there are these Left Wing newspapers, which will, of course, be subject to inquiry by the Royal Commission—is itself a proof that we are not raising this for political reasons?
§ Mr. Baxter
That is a proof that the hon. Gentleman asserts, but it is interesting that this demand has come entirely from that side of the House, and not from any other party. Therefore we are entitled to suspect that there is a passing political interest in what hon. Members opposite are doing. Take the newspaper in which the hon. Gentleman writes—"Reynolds Newspaper." That is a Sunday newspaper which exists for maintaining the right of the Co-operative societies to an unfair advantage against other trades. Is that why hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking for that inquiry, or is it to investigate the "Daily Worker"—[An HON. MEMBER: "All of them."] In that case, go through with it and give notice now, because I claim that the "Daily Worker" has a perfect right to exist. It stands openly and above board for the glorification of the Soviet and the defamation of British honour, but that is the policy of the Communist Party, and the Communist Party is entitled to its newspapers. I defend the right of the "Daily Worker" against these enemies of newspaper freedom on the Socialist side. I defend the right of the Co-operative societies to continue to fight for the unfair conditions under which they trade. I support the "Daily Herald," although the "Daily Herald" would not report one word of mine if I paid them for it.
Is it possible that it is the closed shop threatened by the National Union of Journalists which is causing this demand for an inquiry? If so I warn them that the Government will be neutral. The Government were neutral on the closed 493 shop the other day, they are neutral today and they will be neutral on that issue. It is said that politics are a dirty business, but no Government in history have washed their hands as often as this Government. Is this demand made because hon. Members want to inquire into the advertising revenue and the influence of advertising upon the editor? I had many years of editorship in Fleet Street. Only once in all those years did an advertiser deliberately try to affect our policy. I was never conscious of an advertiser making any pressure at all, except this once. It was a combine which did very heavy advertising, and in the "Daily Express" we were attacking interests which it regarded as important to itself. They sent me a letter and said that unless the "Daily Express" dropped this campaign they would withdraw all advertising for a period of two years.
We sent back a letter by hand saying, "Unless you withdraw your letter, and apologise for it, we will ban all your advertisements in the 'Daily Express' for 25 years." They apologised, and I believe there is not a newspaper in London which would not take that attitude. I ask the House to believe that it is not true that the advertiser has influence. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] The editor never needs the advertiser. I find on the opposite side of the House such a deep faith in the crookedness of other men, that it is really revolting. The writ of the Pharisee runs through those benches on the other side. Every morning they thank God that they are not as other men, and every night they should apologise to God.
Now I come to the much disputed question of the combines. There is something to be said against combines of any kind, whether they are combines of the Right or of the Left—and, believe me, both exist. I think it would be a very good thing if in every town and every provincial city, newspapers were owned by local investors with local pride. That would be preferable to a combine dictated to, or controlled by, London, but, remember, there is another side to it as well. It is a thing to be balanced rather than to be dialectically decided. If a Royal Commission laid it down that no London newspaper group could invade the provinces, then it is quite possible that a group of men would start a news- 494 paper in a place like Cardiff or Sheffield, knowing that there would be no expert opposition, and so they would make very little attempt to produce a good newspaper, there would be very little talent, the newspaper would be second or third rate, and they would have only one consideration—cutting down expenses to make more money. As against that the combine of various papers, by pooling their expenses, can supply to each paper a much better service of foreign correspondents and so on.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
Might I interrupt? This remark has been made twice today, and I am completely impartial on this point, but is it not true to say that the "Manchester Guardian" has a foreign correspondence as good as any of the big combines, although it is a singly-owned paper?
§ Mr. Baxter
I share the general admiration for the "Manchester Guardian", and I am perfectly certain that if they sent a correspondent, he would be first class. However, I think the "Manchester Guardian", with its limited financial resources, might not be able to cover as many foreign countries as a newspaper like the "Daily Express" or "Daily Mail".
§ Mr. Baxter
Then it is a combine, and the argument ceases to exist. In conclusion, I want to put this argument to the House with very great sincerity. One of the things which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby said today was that we should remember how the British Press is regarded abroad, how it is regarded in the Dominions, how it is regarded in the United States of America. All of us in journalism knew what happened before the war in the Paris newspapers, where even the dramatic critics bought the right to criticise so that they could sell their critiques—an idea which we cannot very well incorporate here. Editors were for sale, policies for sale. In my long years in Fleet Street I have never run into corruption of any sort. I can hardly think of any industry or business in the world of which that can be said. In my 30 years there I did not know of a single 495 editor who has retired a rich or wealthy man, and yet an editor of a newspaper has unparalleled opportunities, if he wants to be crooked. There is a pride which extends from the editor and the proprietor down to the rawest reporter. I am very sorry that the gifted and hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) takes so bitter and malignant an attitude towards his own profession. I agree with him about the decline of the editor, but he speaks so bitterly of the newspapers which nurtured him and brought him to his present eminence that I ask him if he has ever seen in any enterprise a head like Lord Beaverbrook—for whom he has no word of gratitude—so enthusiastic about supporting talent, so eager to find new talent, so anxious to give it expression regardless of his own point of view? I ask the hon. Gentleman that question and will willingly give way, if he wants to reply.
§ Mr. Baxter
I have given the hon. Gentleman a chance and I think he should have taken advantage of it and should have been more generous. He also mentioned the wickedness of newspapers which publish a sentence or a speech without its context. He was one of the three authors of "Guilty Men" who made a whole book on that—[An HON. MEMBER: "They were all in their context."] Of course he denies it. What else can one do but deny it? However, it is true and I could show him a dozen cases. I know that this Debate has rather unfortunately developed into a clash between the two sides of the House. I am sorry for that, because what are the three pillars on which our society rests? They are Parliament, the courts and the Press.
§ Mr. Baxter
You might include the Church. Well, the four pillars are Parliament, the courts, the Press, and the Church. I am endeavouring to put to the House an important and serious point of view after two incredibly frivolous and unimportant speeches. I am endeavouring to put this question into its proper perspective. It is right that the 496 Press should be criticised; it should be constantly criticised, but when Parliament suddenly says, "We will now institute a Royal Commission of inquiry," I say that you are complaining to the whole world that the Press in this country is no longer to be trusted. I say you are doing infinite harm, and the House tonight should take note of the words uttered, I think, by the hon. Member for Devonport that there have been times in this House, times in the history of this country, when the Government of the day in this House became the oppressors, and the Press were the only champions of liberty. Now this same voice says. "Let us now inquire into this Press which saved you." [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not say that."] I would say to the House, "Do not be too sure that the day is not now approaching when this House will again be the instrument of tyranny and the Press will be needed to keep your rights." Therefore, in spite of the enthusiasm of those who signed this Motion, I would say, "Think again" and leave it to the Press to take heed of what has been said today, because there are many abuses that the Press would do well to look into. I would say, "Let the Press look after its own affairs." It is sensitive to criticism, as it should be. Let this House not cry shame to the outside world about the most honourable Press in the entire world. I do urge all sections in the House to think twice before they cast this stigma on the great Press of this country.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
It would take the skill of the dramatic critic of the "Evening Standard" to deal adequately with the serio-comic speech to which we have just listened. However, before coming to other matters, I will try to deal with one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). He complained that there was some division between the two sides of the House on the subject we are debating today—that this had developed during the Debate. I can assure him that from this side there has not been any partisan appeal. I beg him to reconsider the point on which I ventured to interrupt him, because I do not think he answered it effectively. Of course, there are Left wing newspapers, and a number of newspapers which support the Government. They will be included in the scope of the 497 inquiry by the Royal Commission. We do not object to that. If there is anything wrong in the finance or control of "Reynolds News," or the "Daily Worker," I hope it will be brought out. That, in itself, surely does establish the point we have made repeatedly from these benches, that this is not a mere Left-wing, anti-Right-wing Press stunt. Nor, of course, is it as the hon. Member represented it to be, an attack on the Press, or the profession of journalism, as such. On the contrary, we are trying to take a step towards the liberation of the profession of journalism.
§ Mr. Baxter
May I say then, obviously I had been misled? But, having read the hon. Gentleman's writings, and those of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), which are on the Left wing, I have never yet read a criticism by them of a Left-wing paper. It is only now that they say this. All the criticism has been of the Right.
§ Mr. Driberg
As a matter of fact, I have frequently criticised the "Daily Herald," and other newspapers of the Left. But it does seem to us who have put our names to the Motion that the gravamen of the charge is against the controllers of the great chains of newspapers of which the hon. Member for Wood Green spoke, such as the Kemsley group. That is why we have concentrated on them in our speeches. We believe they are guilty of the worst of the commercial malpractices to which we have referred and from which, let me repeat, we are trying to liberate the Press, and the profession of journalism.
I did not think that the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) was quite so effective this afternoon as he must have been at Nuremberg. I am sure that, quite sincerely, we would all wish to congratulate him on the very fine work he did there. But this afternoon I thought that he was both illogical, and a trifle naive, and also that he could not really have listened to the speeches of my two hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Motion; because he, again, fell into the same trap as the hon. Member for Wood Green, representing that this was a Left versus Right partisan affair. He outlined at great length the various newspapers of the Left and of the Right. I 498 agree entirely with his analysis of the national daily newspapers, but I do not agree with his analysis of the Sunday newspapers. I would not describe the "News of the World" as a purely nonpolitical paper. I seem to remember that it took up some attitude at the General Election; but I have not, of course, had time to verify my references. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we are asked to condemn the whole structure of the trade periodicals and so on. Nothing of the kind. No doubt, newspapers and periodicals of every sort will come into the scope of the inquiry, but we do not condemn them all out of hand. We merely say there is a prima facie case for investigation into the finance and control of the Press. It seemed to me that my hon. Friends who opened the Debate overwhelmingly established that prima facie case.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman addressed one or two questions directly to me. One of them, I think, was partly answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker). He asked what the difference was between a national newspaper with a big circulation printing in London, Manchester, and Glasgow, and a chain of newspapers such as the Kemsley chain, and why, in our view, one was more deplorable than the other. I think the answer is very simple. There is genuine free competition, for instance, between the "Daily Express," the "Daily Mail" and the "News Chronicle." Someone living in a provincial town can buy any one of them he chooses. Where the difference arises is when the Kemsley group—I use that as an example—buys up a local newspaper, suppresses all free competition and wears a mere mask of local interest which disguises the fact that its views are, in fact, dictated from London.
Sir D. Maxwell Fife
Would the hon. Member help me? I would very much like to get this point of view. Can he tell me of any town where that has happened, where there is no competition from the national dailies, or, in Scotland, from the Scottish dailies? If he can I shall be very grateful. In Aberdeen, I believe, the suggestion is completely disproved.
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not think that is a valid point. I do not regard the national daily newspapers, which carry no local 499 news except when it is of national importance, as being in direct competition with local papers. What we are talking about is the suppression of alternative independent local newspapers, such as was gone into in great detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). Look at South Wales, the North East coast, and all sorts of areas. It is not necessary for me to repeat the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport, but I would suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he is not on a valid point there.
My hon. Friend who opened this Debate said that we should declare our interest, and I, for my part, will do so gladly. I am a professional working journalist, and our interest in this Debate is the freedom of the Press. How could it be otherwise? Do hon. Members opposite seriously suggest that half a dozen journalists would put down a Motion on the Order Paper in an attempt to limit the freedom of the Press, and to destroy their own professional freedom? Of course, the idea is absurd. I have worked for 18 years on the London Press, and for 15 years of that time—if I may obtrude a personal note—until three years ago, on the staff of the "Daily Express," and of Lord Beaver-brook, to whom the hon. Member for Wood Green referred. I should like to assure the hon. Member that none of us on this side is moved in any sense by personal animus in this matter. Several of us have had personal quarrels with various newspapers but, for my part, I should like to respond to the appeal of the hon. Member for Wood Green, and say that personally, although I may deprecate him as a public figure, I do, and always shall, regard Lord Beaverbrook with considerable affection, with great affection and respect—personally. I have found him a very good employer to work for, and a very good employer to be sacked by.
Having said that, I must at once add, in support of this Motion, that it does seem to me, fundamentally, that these newspapers, of which the "Daily Express" is an outstandingly brilliant example, are not properly performing the function which newspapers ought to perform. They are not primarily organs of information and opinion and even entertainment, although they have to throw in 500 incidentally quite a lot of all three. They are primarily commercial properties, just as much so as a big store or a theatre or an hotel. It is because there is that primary fact about them that these tendencies have grown up in recent years, and have taken on a considerable momentum which we hope a Royal Commission will be able to some extent to check, or at any rate to illuminate.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, by the way, accused us of misusing the word "monopoly," and he was able, of course, quite easily to show that there is not at present a monopoly in the strict sense of the word. We have not used the word "monopoly." We have referred to "monopolistic tendencies." Surely, the hard figures which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) quoted do show that there is that steady monopolistic tendency. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not really deal with that point at all. He did not answer the figures which were quoted by my hon. Friend.
It is because newspapers of the type we are mainly discussing are primarily commercial properties that we get these influences, such as the influence of the shareholders, the influence of the advertisers, and so on, with which we, who have put down this Motion, are concerned. I say that, despite the very fine imaginative piece in this morning's "Daily Express," written by my old friend and former colleague, Mr. George Malcolm Thomson, who may be described as the keeper of Lord Beaverbrook's Presbyterian conscience, which seemed almost to indicate that it is a loss and a pain for Lord Beaverbrook to run the "Express" at all.
Let me come at once, and quite briefly, to the one aspect of the question with which I should like mainly to deal—that is, the influence of the advertisers, which the hon. Member for Wood Green, as a former editor of many years' service, denies exists, or denies is exercised. I can only say that I was in the same newspaper office with the hon. Member for many of the years of which he was speaking—
§ Mr. Driberg
That is so. I can only testify that, in my own experience as a 501 writer, journalist, and columnist in that newspaper, the influence of the advertisers was exercised constantly throughout that time. They did not usually put it on paper in the crude way which enabled the hon. Member to make the fine show of independence of which he told us. No, it was much more subtle than that. It was sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always there, and of course the bigger the group of advertisers the more all-pervading it was, and the greater the restriction on the freedom of comment of the individual editor or journalist.
§ Mr. Driberg
Certainly, I will give the hon. and learned Member three. The first general example I will give is the patent medicine advertisers, who are, collectively, very large advertisers indeed. I am sure the hon. and learned Member will agree that, although there may be one or two honourable and outstanding exceptions, like the incident which the hon. Member for Wood Green quoted, it would be extremely unusual to see, in any big, mass-circulation, national newspaper, an exposure or an examination of the claims of patent medicines by any scientist or doctor of standing. I am aware that the newspapers themselves have taken some steps towards remedying this, and exercise more censorship than they used to over the advertisements of patent medicines. But I still maintain that there is a considerable abuse there, and that no freedom of expression about the claims of that kind of commodity is allowed in any big-circulation newspaper.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Is it not the case that every daily newspaper in this country, before it publishes any patent newspaper advertisement, consults the Advertising Association, which has a special panel which vets all these advertisements on the advice of the medical profession or the Pharmaceutical Society, as the case may be?
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not know how effective that panel may be, but I still see in popular newspapers daily, all sorts of advertisements which I know cannot be—
§ Mr. Nally
Will the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) bear in mind that the panel to which he refers, which 502 vets advertisements, pays no attention whatever to the price of the commodity sold in relation to its actual value? All it does is to vet the precise claims made, so that if one is charged 2s. 6d. for something which, in fact, the chemist can sell one for 3d., the Newspaper Proprietors' Association do not trouble about that, and proceed to advertise the commodity.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which does reinforce my argument.
§ Mr. Keeling
I do not think that the hon. Member has dealt with the point. My contention is that the Advertising Association is influenced in its judgment as to whether an advertisement shall be published or not solely by professional advice as to whether the claims that the advertisement puts forward are legitimate or fraudulent.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I intervene occasionally? I am sure that the factual wording of these advertisements is vetted and is correct, but any hon. Member who is honest and who reads newspaper advertisements knows perfectly well that the skill of the advertiser, the artist, the copywriter, consists in conveying an impression which goes beyond the actual wording of the claim. In addition I believe that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) is valid—that almost all these patent medicines, even where they do what they claim to do, are about three times as expensive as they should be—which is something that the public is entitled to be informed about. The main reason why we are concerned about the freedom of the Press is not that it means freedom for journalists and editors to write what they wish to write; it is much more important than that. It is part of the general civil liberties of the subject. He is entitled to receive true news and fair comment, and we maintain he is not getting a full measure of them.
I put in here one qualification about the advertisers. It is perfectly true that their influence has been considerably lessened during wartime owing to paper rationing, but if large newspapers return again, we can presumably anticipate that the same situation will prevail as prevailed before the war.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Is it not the case that an advertiser advertises in a certain newspaper because he thinks that that newspaper goes into the homes of the people who will, he hopes, purchase his commodity? Surely he does not regard himself as conferring any favour on the newspaper, but as helping himself, if that newspaper circulates in the homes where he hopes to sell his commodity?
§ Mr. Driberg
The position of the newspaper vis-à-vis the advertiser is really quite different in wartime and in peacetime. In normal peacetime, before the war, I can assure the hon. Member, there was considerable competition amongst newspapers and periodicals to secure the "good advertising accounts." That is the main source of their revenue. In wartime the position is reversed owing to the shortage of paper and the consequent shortage of valuable advertising space. Therefore, advertisers compete with each other for the privilege of appearing in the newspaper advertisement columns. But that is not the normal situation, and it is the normal situation, as I knew it for many years in Fleet Street, to which I am referring.
I promised to give three examples; I have so far given one. The second example I should like to give is the advertising of drink and liquor. I think this may appeal to a number of my hon. Friends on these benches. I am not myself a teetotaller, or an advocate of prohibition, but I must say that, at a time when both the paper and the beer are so scarce, it seems to me to be an anti-social absurdity that so many thousands of acres of paper should be devoted to telling us that "Guinness is good for you," or whatever the eternal truth may be that is proclaimed. I am quite sure that hon. Members opposite, if they think about it carefully, will realise that those papers which are so largely subsidised by the brewers' advertisements would think twice, to put it mildly, before indulging in a sustained campaign against the brewers' interests.
My final example is one which has always remained in my mind because it has a comic aspect, and because it serves to illustrate two abuses at once—not merely the influence of the advertisers, but also the complete charlatanism of the newspaper astrologers who, unfortunately, 504 have quite a number of followers among the more superstitious and gullible members of the public. This happened some years ago before the war. I was standing in the office of the features editor of a large capitalist Sunday newspaper. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wood Green can guess which paper I mean. I was reading through the proofs of the next Sunday's page 3 and was glancing at the astrologer's contribution. I noticed that he had, as usual, played fairly safe—at that time—by announcing that there was a considerable risk in flying for the next few weeks. There was a prospect of some air crashes occurring. We were glancing at this when suddenly the advertisement manager came into the room, with a troubled face, and said, " You know, we can't let so-and-so get away with this. We have just got a new series of advertisements from Imperial Airways." That dilemma was solved by a simple procedure. The features editor took the astrologer's article and wrote into it the following words: "The above remarks do not apply to British air-lines, which are astrologically lucky."
I apologise to the House for taking up so much time. I feel that my hon. Friends have made out an overwhelming prima facie case for an inquiry of the kind for which we are asking. I believe such an inquiry would do good even if it did no more than to illuminate what goes on in the finances and control of the Press and to persuade the public, therefore, to read their newspapers more critically and more sceptically.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
I ought to begin by disclosing the fact that I am myself a journalist, not on the proprietorial side, except to a quite insignificant degree, but what hon. Members opposite quite properly call a wage-slave, receiving unimpressive emoluments for a great deal of well-intentioned endeavour. But it is not as a journalist that I want to intervene this evening. It matters very little to journalists one way or the other whether a Royal Commission is appointed or not. I intervene simply as a Member of this House sharing with other hon. Members the responsibility for deciding whether the Government should be advised to appoint this Royal Commission or not, for I assume that, on a free vote of the House, the Government will be 505 guided to some extent by the votes in the Division Lobby. That is really not a light responsibility. The appointment of a Royal Commission should not he approached in any spirit of levity. A Royal Commission is an extremely important piece of our constitutional machinery which is only rarely invoked for special purposes. I imagine such Commissions are appointed on an average of not more than one a year. I do not think this Government in the 15 months of their existence have yet appointed such a Commission at all. Therefore, I suggest that we ought to be very clearly convinced of the desirability of this course before we advise the Government that it should be taken. Certainly our decision ought not to rest on any such basis as attacks on particular newspaper proprietors.
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) reminded me of a not very young lady who, after waiting long for the opportunity, picked up a strawberry at an afternoon party and remarked brightly:I come to seize a berry, not to bury a Caesar.The hon. Member for Devonport has seized a Berry. He has brandished him before the House, squeezed every drop of juice out of him and returned him duly dehydrated to the place from whence he came, to realise once for all that in these days business enterprise is something to be carefully avoided. There was one characteristic of the hon. Gentleman's attack on Lord Kemsley. He accused him of every kind of journalistic crime, of distortion, suppression and misrepresentation, but from first to last I failed to hear one sentence, one word, one syllable, of evidence to support anything he said. Let me say that I have not the honour of knowing Lord Kemsley, and Lord Kemsley has not the honour of knowing me. We were told that Lord Kemsley distorted news at Aberdeen. We were not given a single example of the news which Lord Kemsley distorted. We were told that he was constantly giving this instruction and that instruction to his editors. I should have thought that the hon. Member could have produced one editor who would have told him one piece of instruction which he had received from Lord Kemsley. There was not a word on that subject, not one word. We have no evidence at all. I hold no brief for Lord Kemsley, but what, after all, is his offence? He is a Conservative, and he 506 is the owner of Conservative papers in London and the provinces. Is it really so great a crime that he should expect his provincial editors to take a Conservative view, just as do his London editors? When it comes to an Election, there is not much difference between five or six people chanting in unison, "We want Winston," and one person with a megaphone, shouting, "We want Winston"—particularly when they do not get him in either case.
There is another argument invoked in favour of this course. It has been suggested in print and in conversation, and it came very near to being suggested by the hon Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker), whose speech, if I may say so, I thought was on a very different level from some made by other hon. Members opposite. It has been suggested that an inquiry of this sort may do some good and will not do any harm. That again is not sufficient ground for appointing a Royal Commission. Neither do I accept the argument by the hon. Member for Smethwick that newspapers ought to welcome this course because, if they are as virtuous as they claim to be, they would be given a clear character. The newspapers in this matter want neither a coat of whitewash nor a white sheet. They will not be greatly moved by either the condonation or the condemnation of a Royal Commission.
There is one very important question which needs to be answered and which I trust the Lord President of the Council will deal with when he gives his reply. Perhaps the Home Secretary, who, I understand, is impersonating him, will pass it on? It is customary for a Royal Commission to be appointed in order to advise the Government of the day with a view to action. The question I want to ask is: Do the Government contemplate action in restriction, or regulation, or regimentation, of the Press, as a result of the findings of the Royal Commission? The hon. Member for Devonport specifically spoke of legislation. The hon. Member for Smethwick spoke of the ends which he suggested might be achieved by legislation. I am bound to say that I regard legislation in regulation of the Press as the first step towards placing the Press on that road which leads to the state in which it finds itself in totalitarian countries, in which it is first organised into corpora- 507 tions, is later put into uniform, and then finds itself the subservient mouthpiece of the Administration.
The real question to be decided is: Are conditions such that the appointment of a Royal Commission is justified, and is there a reasonable prospect that a Royal Commission will yield valuable results? I cannot help thinking that there has been a great deal of exaggeration in regard to the situation as it exists today. We have been told about monopolistic tendencies in the Press. I do not believe—and I am going to quote figures to justify my belief—that any monopolistic tendency exists in what I regard as the essential field of the British Press today. What really matters is what is happening to the eight or nine great national newspapers—those which circulate all over the country. Before the war, they had four-fifths of the circulation of all morning daily newspapers. Today, the provincial papers have had a slightly larger allocation of newsprint, which has altered the proportions a little but, even now, I think we may take it that five-sixths or four-fifths of the newspaper readers of the whole country in the morning, are readers of the London morning papers. These, after all, are the papers of opinion—the evening papers are not that at all to the same degree. There are, of course, Sunday newspapers, but it is the daily drip that counts, and, in any case, the Englishman never believes much of what he hears, or for that matter, reads on Sunday.
In regard to the national papers, the tendency, so far from it being towards monopoly, is definitely against it. The hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) gave figures about the diminution of the London papers. I agree that they did diminish to a small extent in 20 years before the war, largely owing to the voracity—not "veracity"—of the "Daily News," which devoured, first of all, the "Morning Leader," then the "Westminster Gazette" and then the "Daily Chronicle," acquiring in the latter case the paper's name as well as other assets. Apart from that there has been no diminution in the London daily morning papers, in spite of the fact that the "Morning Post" died of its own politics in 1937, and of the mortality of the "Daily Graphic"—though a new 508 "Daily Graphic" sprang up later to take its place. Today no two of these are under the same control. Every one is entirely independent, or a member of a different set of the combines to which reference has been made. These combines are not all nefariously Conservative—not that I mind whether they are or not, for I have no connection with the firm above the Gangway. It is announced only this morning that the Liberal "Westminster Press", which is the property of the Rowntree-Cowdray group, has paid a 20 per cent. dividend instead of one of to per cent. It owns 11 morning papers, seven evening papers and one Sunday paper. In support of the contention that the trend today is away from monopoly, not towards it, let me recall that 25 years ago "The Times" and the "Daily Mail" were under the same control; that is no longer the case today. The "Daily Mail" and "Daily Mirror" were under the same control; that is no longer the case today. The "Daily Telegraph" and "Sunday Times" were under the same control; that is no longer the case today. The whole tendency, so far from it being towards monopoly, is quite definitely and specifically away from it.
But we have heard very little about the actual Motion on the Paper today. To several hon. Members who have supported it it does not seem to count for very much. This Motion, let me recall, expresses:public concern at the growth of monopolistic tendencies in the control of the Press,and goes on:and with the object of furthering the free expression of opinion through the Press.What that means I do not profess to know. I do not know whose opinion is to be expressed, whether the papers shall open their columns to ordinary correspondence from their readers or not or whether it means the opinions of the staff, or what. I certainly do not know what a Royal Commission, or the Government acting upon its advice, can conceivably do about that. Still less do I see how any action of the Government, resulting from the Royal Commission, is going to ensurethe greatest practicable accuracy in the presentation of news.There are plenty of misrepresentations in the Press today. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) referred to 509 one flagrant example; there are no worse misrepresentations of the actual situation than some of the Parliamentary reports in the "Daily Herald," but the Government obviously cannot do anything about that. They cannot prescribe the length of the report which the "Daily Herald" is to give OT the allocation of space to different speakers. It manifestly has nothing to do with a Royal Commission.
Then we have been told that there is suppression of news. What nonsense. Of course, there is suppression on a wholesale scale. Hon. Members know as well as I do that every paper has in its office every night ten times as much material as it can get into its pages, and nine-tenths of it has necessarily to be suppressed. It may be that my judgment, or that of other hon. Members, would not coincide with that of the editor as to what should be taken and what left, but it is no use talking about suppression of news and urging that this should be a matter for a Royal Commission. Again, it is said that in any case useful facts about the British Press would be brought to light. That opinion too I beg leave to challenge. I do not believe that a Royal Commission would bring to light anything material which is not available today. There is a very salutary rule governing Questions put down on the Order Paper of this House. An hon. Member is not allowed to put down any Question seeking information which he can get from some other source. How very much stronger is the argument against appointing a Royal Commission for extracting information which hon. Members may extract for themselves if they choose?
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
Is the hon. Member aware that the last "P.E.P." report gave facts and figures about the financial control of the Press, but that it is impossible to publish figures showing where the control really lies?
§ Mr. Harris
I have probably read that admirable report much more carefully than the hon. Member, but the Cohen Report had not then been published and the legislation now promised by the Government was not in prospect. We have this most admirable "P.E.P." report, which practically tells one everything one wants to know about the Press in all its bearings and aspects; we have the "Stock Exchange Year Book" and the "Direc- 510 tory of Directors" and as soon as the Cohen Report regarding company law and the publication of the facts about subsidiaries becomes law, we shall have got everything conceivable in the way of information about the newspaper Press of this country; and it would be a most improper thing to go to the extent of appointing a Royal Commission to acquire information which can quite easily be obtained from other sources. This House is not itself called on to pass judgment on the Press this evening. It is very much in the position of the old grand jury, which no longer exists, charged with reading the indictment and deciding whether there was a case to go to trial or not and returning a true bill or no bill. I urge that in this matter a verdict of "No Bill" should be returned by this House—first of all because such an inquiry is completely unnecessary; not a word has been spoken tonight to prove its necessity. I find it rather remarkable, incidentally, that a Government which refused an inquiry into the B.B.C., which is a direct responsibility of the House, the Government should, in spite of what the Prime Minister said in April contemplate instituting an inquiry into the working of the newspaper Press. As I have said, such an inquiry is unnecessary, and I believe that it would prove futile unless it resulted in legislation, which I think would be reprehensible in the last degree.
It has been suggested that the great remedy would be publicity. How is that to be achieved? What are the instruments of publicity today? Is this House going to say to the newspapers, "We are going to find out all the worst that can be said against you. We are going to set up a Royal Commission to inquire and make a report on your misdemeanours, and shall rely on you to give that report all the publicity possible"? If a Royal Commission is appointed, I am sure that the Press of this country will treat the matter objectively and fairly as, in the main, it treats all matters. To ask it to go further is something which people whose minds are ordered on the basis of reason could hardly suggest. Such an inquiry, moreover, would be not only futile but entirely untimely.
What is the state of the newspaper Press today? What has been its state during the last six years? Some news- 511 papers today have just been enabled to produce a third sheet every other day, But they are not the newspapers we used to know; they are not the normal newspapers of this country. Let us get back to something like normality before we inquire into their virtues or their vices. I hope the House will reject this Motion, finally, because it is mischievous. I believe that hon. Members opposite will admit that we have the best Press in the world or, at any rate, as good as any in the world. Is it necessary to proclaim to the whole world that our Press is guilty of the charges preferred against it today? The unfortunate thing is that hon. Members opposite in an attempt to bolster up their case must try to blacken the Press to the utmost degree possible—and I must admit that their efforts in that direction have been pretty creditable.
I happen to have had a trivial experience of the effect of that process myself. The other day, like other hon. Members, I went down to the German prisoners-of-war camp at Beaconsfield and addressed them on the British Press. I gave a general account of its working and its position, and among the many intelligent questions which I was asked was, "If the British Press is in the state that you describe, why this clamour for an inquiry into it? "That point of view had not escaped this particular class of men and does not escape people of other countries. I repeat that, in my opinion, the proposed inquiry should be resisted because it is unnecessary, because it is futile, untimely and mischievous, and I would, therefore, ask the House to take advantage of the freedom given to it tonight and to vote against this Motion.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Thurtle (Shoreditch)
I am sorry that the two hon. Members who moved and seconded this Motion were not more specific about what they want done concerning the Press. The only specific proposal which we have had so far is that the chain of provincial newspapers should be dealt with. The House was given an entirely false picture of the position of provincial newspapers. We were led to believe that, until the provincial newspapers were taken over by some of the chain newspapers, the position in the provinces was idealistic. The suggestion was made that the chain newspapers have 512 come along and spoilt the position then prevailing. I know a little about the position of newspapers in the provinces. They were usually owned either by rabid Conservatives or rabid Liberals of a rather narrow minded type, and under such ownership there wa, no likelihood of a broadminded policy being pursued. I suggest that the advent of the chain newspapers in the provinces has certainly not weakened or made that position more unsatisfactory, because it was thoroughly unsatisfactory in the past owing to the attitude of the individual proprietors.
On the question of standing up to strong local interests, which is very important to provincial newspapers, is it suggested that small town proprietors could withstand local pressure? Nothing of the sort. They were in a weak position and were inclined to give way to combined local pressure. So far as that is concerned, I suggest that the chain newspapers are in a much stronger position, both financially and otherwise, to resist the pressure of local interests. I am going to vote against this Motion for exactly the same reason as that given by the hon. Member the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). I do not think there is any real justification for it. The mover of the Motion referred in the most eulogistic terms to the "P.E.P." report on the Press. I wish that all hon. Members who have not read that report would do so, because it is an extraordinarily illuminating document. Until I read that report yesterday, I had an open mind as to whether I would back this Motion or not, but, having read it, I have come to the conclusion that there is no justification for asking for a Royal Commission. I will tell the. House why. This Commission is designed to be a fact finding Commission. The "P.E.P." report is of a most exhaustive characted and its integrity was confirmed by the mover of the Motion. A great many experienced journalists were engaged in its compilation, and it surveyed the whole field of this proposed inquiry, including finance, control, management and ownership. Hon. Members will have some idea of the comprehensive and thorough nature of this report when I tell them that its length exceeds 170,000 words. I suggest that that report has provided us with all the facts that are necessary.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
The hon. Gentleman confesses that he only read the report yesterday. The whole fundamental point of the report is that the people who compiled it could not get sufficient facts on which to form a judgment.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I read the report carefully and did not notice that much stress was laid upon that particular point.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman is using the report as the basis of his argument. The introductory chapter of that report reveals the fact that there was insufficient evidence on which to form a judgment.
§ Mr. Thurtle
Although that fact may appear somewhere in the report, the people responsible for it certainly laid no stress upon it in their recommendations. What they said was that, having acquired the information, they were not in a position to recommend that any Government action should be taken. It is true that the report was made in 1938, but I do not think it can seriously be suggested that the structure of the Press has altered in any important respect since 1938. My considered view is that we already have the facts in that report and, therefore, there is no need further to pursue the question of fact finding. What we have to consider is whether, on the basis of those facts, any action is required. The hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) admitted that this was a very impartial and objective Committee. Their verdict is that there should be no governmental action. They said:'We axe satisfied that the British Press as it exists today is incomparably superior as a purveyor of information and as an organ of opinion to any other Press in the world.I hope no one in this House is prepared to dissent from that opinion.
1 would remind the House that there has been no official censorship of the Press in this country since 1695. I observe that the person who attacked John Milton for his plea for the liberty of the Press was successful inasmuch as he was given the office of censor of the Press. I hope there will not be any repetition of that sort of thing in this Parliament. I put it to the Lord President of the Council that it would be a melancholy thing if, in this first Parliament in which there is an effective Socialist majority, we should have a repetition of that reward for advocating the restriction of the freedom of 514 the Press. There was once a leather merchant of Fleet Street, a Mr Praise God Barebones, who gave his name to a Parliament. I would be sorry if the Lord President, because of his apparent terror of the name of Beaverbrook, were to cause this to go down in history as the "Press Gag Parliament."
My name has been mentioned in connection with the "Sunday Express." I make no apology for writing in the "Sunday Express." In doing that I am only following the example of many of my hon. Friends who now sit on the Front Bench and a number of my hon. Friends who sit behind the Front Bench. I am not here to defend Lord Beaverbrook the "Express" newspapers are well able to do that themselves—but I would like to point out that, in my experience, the "Daily Express" and the other "Express" newspapers allow a great deal more liberty to the people who write and draw for them than some of the other newspapers under different control. I do not wish to say unkind things, but I am inclined to think that the editor of the "Daily Herald" would rejoice if he enjoyed as much freedom of expression as do many of the people working in the "Daily Express." Let me quote this as the creed of the "Express" newspapers, my Lord President.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I was seeking, through you, to direct the attention of the Lord President to these words:It must be stated that the columns of the 'Express' newspapers are open to writers and cartoonists of talent whatever their political opinions, that no censorship of their views would ever be contemplated, and that no attempt would be made to place any limitations on the free expression by contributors, and staff of the view points which they hold. Ally other course would be an infringement of the freedom of the Press, which no editorial consideration could justify, and nothing would persuade the 'Express' newspapers to interfere in any way with the work of Low, Strube or Giles or with the contributions of journalists of the Left.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I think that that is a very fine statement. Let me continue:At the same time, while the freedom of individual writers is sustained, the beliefs which the newspapers hold will continue to be given constant expression in the editorial columns.I am only a journalist in a very modest 515 way, but in my experience that sort of freedom has been allowed to exist, and it is not a bad newspaper creed. If it were to obtain, which I doubt, in papers like the "Daily Herald" and the "Daily Worker" the people working on those newspapers would be a great deal happier.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
Would it not be a good thing if the Royal Commission were able to investigate what the hon. Gentleman has just alleged?
§ Mr: Thurtle
It would be if the facts about control and management were not already known, but my point is that those facts are already known and, therefore, it is unnecessary to have this Royal Commission. The report to which I have referred mentioned various possible methods of dealing with the great combines. It spoke of the restriction of circulation. There has been a suggestion that the circulation of newspapers should be restricted to two million. I do not know on what ground this House of Commons could say that a citizen should not be allowed to buy the newspaper he wants because two million other citizens have already decided that they want that particular newspaper. I suggest to the Lord President that if the Government once start denying a man the right to have the newspaper of his choice, they will be getting rather near to compelling a man to have the newspaper they wish him to have. I do not know whether it is within the recollection of the House that before and during the war in Germany, if a man and woman went to the altar to be married one of the conditions on which their marriage was made effective was that they should buy a copy of Hitler's "Mein Kampf." I hope the day will not come when one of the conditions on which a man and woman may go to the altar in this country will be a year's subscription to the "Daily Herald." On the question of limiting the number of our newspapers—because that is another proposal which has been made—who is to determine how many newspapers there shall be, whether half a dozen, a dozen or 18 will be sufficient to cover all the varying points of view and interests which exist among our people? I do not think there is any competent individual, or any competent panel of individuals capable of determining that. Therefore, that is no solution.
516 I come to my final point. I do not think this is a question of millionaire finance, or anything of that sort. In the great newspaper world there is a tremendous competitive fight for circulation. Circulation is the key to finance, because circulation is the key to advertising. If a newspaper gets great circulation, it gets great advertising and great income. If circulation is really the test, how are the great circulations to be achieved? They are to be achieved by the degree of judgment displayed by the editors—and the proprietors, if you will—in divining what the people want, and how best the presentation of news and the various other things in the newspaper will appeal to the greatest possible number. If their judgment is good, up goes the circulation; if their judgment in this respect is bad, down goes the circulation.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I would suggest that as far as political bias is concerned—and, of course, there is bias in all newspapers—there is a kind of automatic corrective in the question of circulation. If a newspaper—and I do not care which newspaper, or what its political colour—carries the bias too far there is a reaction among its readers, who drop the paper, and the circulation goes down. All newspapers are concerned with circulation, and circulation is the key note of finance—and we have heard a great deal about finance. That is all I wish to say, except to repeat, that I think there is no case for this fact finding Commission because the facts are already known. There has been a lot of talk in general terms, but I have not heard a case, made out. I have not heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) suggest that he has suffered any great repression in practising his career as a journalist. I have heard no evidence that journalists have been suffering acutely from the repressive tactics of their employers. Therefore, because there is no ground for this fact finding commission, and because there has been no evidence of any real evil of a serious and urgent character in the newspaper world, I shall vote against this Motion. It is a free vote, and I invite my hon. Friends to think over the issue carefully before they decide to go into the Lobby in support of this Motion. We have heard a lot of libertarian talk, but I would remind this House that many times in the past the 517 vocabulary of liberty has been used in order to take away the freedom of the people.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
I will pass over what is to me the very melancholy spectacle of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle)—who apparently since yesterday has managed, not only to prepare a speech with sedulous care, but also to read a report of 170,000 words—expressing his preference for chain newspapers in provincial towns rather than locally owned newspapers. I have prepared no speech at all. I wish to deal with the four points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). He asked for evidence. He said he did not believe there was any such thing as deliberate distortion or suppression. I will give him the evidence. I do not need to go any farther back than this morning's "Daily Express" to find a piece of distortion which could only have been deliberate. I have it in my hand. The victim was the hon. Member for South Nottingham, who is, I admit, a supremely unimportant Member of this House. However, he is a Member of this House, and this is the sort of treatment to which the hon. Member for South Nottingham is exposed by the "Daily Express." Yesterday, I asked a Question about leaflets being circulated to the customers of the West Kent Electric Company along with their quarterly accounts. I quoted the leaflet, and I called it a mendacious statement, which said—in the present tense—thatunder nationalisation the cost of coal is going up and up.The House will note I used the present tense. Coal is not yet nationalised. What do I find? I find the "Daily Express," merely by the very simple trick of altering the tense from the present to the future, makes it read like this:Mr. Norman Smith (Socialist, South Nottingham): 'Under nationalisation the mice of coal will go up,'which completely destroyed my point, and robbed it of any value at all. We all know it goes on, and the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby cannot tell me he does not know.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave figures. He said, I think, that there were 1,200 local newspapers. I do not complain about the figure; I do not know 518 what the figure is. However, this I do know—and this is the point he ignored—whatever the number is now, it used to be more. There are fewer. Local newspapers are being absorbed by the chains. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for an instance of a town where there is no competition. I will tell him. I do not need to go farther than the town in which I was born and spent my boyhood. In Swindon we had two rival newspaper houses battling with each other every week, bat one gobbled the other up and now there is only one. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Every interruption is taking up more of our time, and we are already getting speeches which average half an hour.
§ Mr. Smith
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said there was consumer demand; that the consumer could choose. I see the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) is in his place. I happen to be fascinated by the topic of finance. Whether I understand it or not, I do not know. But I used to be very fond of the "Financial News," and I hated the "Financial Times." Until a few months ago I bought the "Financial News," and read it with my breakfast every morning. Along comes the right hon. Member for Bournemouth and says, "You cannot have it any more. Never mind the consumer demand. I say you are to have the 'Financial Times,' and you have got to have it."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made great play with the apology, which many of us regretted, that was forthcoming recently from the learned Attorney-General. This brings me to a very important matter of which I beg my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council to take notice. What went on in the mind of the learned Attorney-General I do not know. This I do know, that I am a working journalist; I have had 30 years in Fleet Street and I know that every journalist lives in daily terror of the law of libel because it is so capricious and in so unsatisfactory a state. There has been no legislation about it since 1889, and we are all at the mercy of special juries. I once had a libel action brought against my proprietors, who had to pay £500 to a Shoreditch chemist who said we had damaged his reputation with an alleged libel. We were able to prove 519 that in the six months following the alleged libel the takings of his chemist's shop had gone up and up, but he got damages out of us.
I know that a speaker can be addressing a meeting and may, when interrupted, let slip a remark which, when he thinks about it in the morning, he knows perfectly well is actionable, and because of this unsatisfactory law of libel he may think it necessary to apologise. Most libel cases are actually settled, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, out of court before the event. I hope, if for no other reason, that we get the Royal Commission so that the law of libel may be amended. I know what I am talking about. I have had a lot of experience. [Laughter.] Yes, I have. I know hon. Members opposite do not like to hear an expert talking that which he knows. I hope, if for no other reason, that this Royal Commission will come about, because I say, in the light of my experience, that this unsatisfactory law of libel militates against the freedom of the Press.
I believe that, in the future, political influence will reside not so much with daily papers as with pictorial magazines and weeklies. That is already the case in the United States of America; and I do hope that the word "Press" in this Motion will be interpreted to cover all publications, magazines as well as daily papers. I hope that that is so. I am going into the Lobby with my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Motion, and I trust that the party on this side will all of them do so.
§ 7. 11 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Aitken (Holborn)
I must first let the House know that I am connected with the Press, not only financially, but in an executive capacity, in that I am general manager of the "Sunday Express". I have worked in newspapers for 15 years—except, of course, for the six years of the war when I was away—15 years in which, I think, I have got to know the business pretty well. I have seen the growth of large newspapers; I have seen them grow into very important newspapers; I have seen very important newspapers fall and fail; I have seen combines grow, and I have seen combines fail.
The first thing that I should like to say about the proposed inquiry is that no 520 man knowing anything about newspapers has objection to it on personal grounds. A man whose conscience is clear has no qualms when a policeman comes to his house and asks about a burglary; but when the detectives arrive and start uprooting his house, moving the furniture, pulling up the carpets, questioning his wife, and, perhaps, worse still, being rude to the cook then, I think, he may feel a certain resentment. In short, is this inquiry likely to accomplish anything? The question is interesting on public as well as private grounds. It may be quite a minor thing that newspapers will be put to greater inconvenience by the inquiry. A great deal of time, in my opinion, will be wasted by editors, subeditors and managers giving evidence before the Commission. A very important point is that public money will be spent on it, and that the time of public men and officials will be wasted on it. Is it going to find out anything we do not know already, is it going to provide better and improved conditions in the industry, an industry which already has magnificent conditions and extremely high wages? Or is it simply going to use public funds in order to satisfy the idle curiosity of some of the Members opposite?
There is one reason, it seems to me, for supposing that the inquiry, while it may yield a good deal of entertainment, would not make a serious contribution to national knowledge: the inquiry is based, first of all, on the assumption that the Press is and is becoming increasingly a monopoly. If a monopoly could be reconciled with competition, more violent and aggressive than in any branch of human activity, except, perhaps, that of Back Benchers on the other side of the House trying to get on to their own Front Bench—if that competition can be defined as a monopoly, then, perhaps, the Press could be called monopolistic. It might be reasonable to hold an inquiry into the Press on the grounds of increasing public and private concern at the violence of the competition which threatens the position and even the existence of some worthy newspapers.
I have been looking into figures, as Members on both sides of the House have been, and I have got some up-to-date figures which, I hope, the House will listen to, and in which it will be interested. There are 11 national morning newspapers, including the "Daily Worker" and the "Manchester 521 Guardian "—because, in the newspaper industry, we count the "Manchester Guardian" as a national newspaper—with a sale of 15,000,000 per day. There are 34 provincial morning newspapers with a sale of 3,000,000. There are three London evening newspapers with a sale of 3,350,000. There are 8o provincial evening newspapers with a sale of 7,000,000.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
Would the hon. Gentleman forgive me? Did he say 34 provincial morning newspapers?
§ Mr. Aitken
Yes, there are 34 provincial morning newspapers. There are 80 provincial evening newspapers with a sale of 7,000,000. There are 16 Sunday newspapers, national and provincial, with a sale of 26,000,000. There are 859 provincial weekly newspapers with a sale of 10,500,000; and 560 small, unclassified newspapers with a sale of 1,000,000—a total of 1,563 publications with a total sale of 65,850,000.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I interrupt? I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's extremely well written speech. Did he hear the figures given by the mover of the Motion, which show that there used to be many more newspapers and that, though there is not a monopoly—nobody said there was there is a monopolistic tendency?
§ Mr. Aitken
I am giving figures to show there is not even a monopolistic tendency, nor any form of monopoly. An inquiry based on a monopoly would be based, not on distortion of the facts, but on direct contravention of them.
The Motion deals next with the "free expression of opinion." Dealing with that question from the point of view of the group of newspapers with which I am associated, I should like to say that since the Socialist Government came into power the "Daily Express," the "Evening Standard and the "Sunday Express" have published 98 articles by Socialist writers on Socialist ways. I am bound to say that the Socialist Press, the "Daily Herald," "The People" and "Reynolds News" have not published one single article by the Opposition. Many hon. Members opposite say they do not get a fair show in the newspapers in the reports of the Debates. Speaking for my group, I should like to point out to them that, taking the major Debates since they came into power, they have obtained in the "Daily Express",—the "Evening 522 Standard" is published in the afternoons and is too early; and as the House does not sit on Saturdays the "Sunday Express" does not publish Parliamentary reports—the "Daily Express" have published 1,165 column inches of reporting of the Government, whereas the Opposition have received only 582 inches. I think the Socialist Government ought to be very grateful for these' figures.
The next point of the Motion is furtherance of the "greatest practicable accuracy in the presentation of news." We all agree with that. Every journalist does. I regret the mistake in the "Daily Express" which the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. N. Smith) mentioned. I am sure the "Daily Express" regrets it just as much. Accuracy is what we all strive for.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Mr. Speaker, may I call attention to the fact that when an hon. Member rose on this side to put a question, you replied that it would be better if there were no interruptions?
§ Mr. Aitken
Many people, many of them Members of Parliament, often come to me and say, "Did you see that gross piece of misrepresentation or of bad reporting in a certain newspaper?" Someone came to me to say that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) managed to be left out of a report of the rally at the Albert Hall. My reply always is, "Editors and news editors have different values of news." And rightly so—absolutely. Some dramatic critics thought that "Caesar and Cleopatra" was very bad. Other critics thought it was good, but at least they are entitled to their own opinion. Thank God we still have different editors and different views throughout the country, and not a State-appointed editor sitting in Whitehall. As for the advertisers, I can assure the House that I am speaking for all the Press when I say that they have not the slightest influence on the editorial columns of the papers. For why? Because there is double the amount of advertising trying to get into the papers than the newspapers can take. No newspaper has to be influenced by any advertiser.
§ Mr. Aitken
As to the control of the Press, I have given the House the number of newspapers, a few of which are controlled by one group or individual, and newspapers obviously give power to the man at the top. But that power can be dissipated overnight. The public can dissipate that power by not buying his newspaper [An HON. MEMBER: "And doing without."] There are plenty of newspapers in the country, as I have illustrated in the figures I have given to the House Some time ago the Government were good enough to give us some more newsprint. The public can buy any newspaper they want, any newspaper at all, and therefore the Government themselves have wiped out a very large part of the monopoly which had been introduced through lack of newsprint during the war years. A newspaper now sells on its merits. There are no circulation inducements at all, no free gifts, no offers of insurance, no Encyclopædia Britannicas to be had for nothing. A newspaper today is a straightforward news sheet, with its opinion put in its opinion column. Newspapers have nothing to hide, they are open to all inquiries and to all commissions, but I would like to say that their war record and their peace record have been examples to the rest of the world in freedom, decency and integrity, and I am proud to be associated with such a fine body of men and women as constitute the British Press.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I also have to inform the House that I am a member of the National Union of Journalists, and a working journalist who has earned his living in Fleet Street. I think that those of us who are in Fleet Street and speak today, although we may claim some knowledge of this subject, must also he rather careful to clear our minus of prejudice. One cannot spend 15 years in Fleet Street without contracting a certain number of sectional and even personal prejudices. Fleet Street also has its own particular sort of cant. There is a great deal of cant, if I may say so, about the freedom of the Press, and there are other sorts. What those of us who are journalists have to do is to clear our minds of all these presuppositions, and try to re-examine what is, after all, a great question of national policy in the dispas- 524 sionate spirit which it deserves. I would like to congratulate the Government, first of all, on their decision to leave this matter to a free vote of the House. That at least has done something to encourage free speech this afternoon, though for myself I am rather sorry that the Debate so far has developed on such party lines, because 1 do not believe that that entirely represents opinion in the country as a whole.
1 would like to say as simply as I can that I myself believe most profoundly in the freedom of the Press, but I also believe in the freedom of the ordinary man to criticise the Press millionaires. The Press lords of this country have been exercising their right of freedom of speech very vigorously for many years past, and, therefore, I think that some us will now be in order today in speaking freely about them. I should like to speak particularly freely about Lord Beaverbrook, who has already been mentioned in several parts of the House. The way these Press lords have conducted their newspapers in the last 20 years is thoroughly germane to this Debate, and, therefore, I want to speak very freely about Lord Beaverbrook. Lord Beaverbrook seems to me—and this my considered opinion—to be a man who, during the last 20 years, has used his papers to frustrate practically every good cause and encourage practically every bad cause. He took a leading part in his newspapers in the movement which effectively defeated and frustrated the League of Nations, and so, in my view, helped to make war certain. But after that, at the time when war was at hand and when war had actually arrived, Lord Beaverbrook and his papers did even greater disservice to this country.
The House will remember how the "Daily Express" told us every day during 1938 that there was going to be no more war That was the time when Dr. Goebbels was trying to lull us all into a false sense of security, and it was the duty of British newspapers to warn this country of the dangers which were coming. But it was not merely in 1938, but right on into 1939 that we were given these optimistic forecasts in the "Daily Express," and since hon Members opposite—the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and the hon Member for Holborn (Mr. Aitken)—have denied that the advertisers have had any considerable influence on the Press, I think I 525 must say one word on that, although I had not so intended. As one who has worked for 12 years in Fleet Street, I must say that it is absolute humbug to say that the advertisers have had no influence. We can have many arguments about this subject—and I agree with some of the things said on the other side of the House—hut that is absolute humbug, and hon. Members opposite who know anything about Fleet Street must know it. There was that pressure at that time, and the point I am making is that Lord Beaverbrook's newspaper carried on this line of propaganda right up to the war and right into the war.
There have been complaints from the other side today that hon. Members on this side who have criticised the Press lords have not given chapter and verse for what they have said. For that reason I would like to read three very short quotations from the "Daily Express" which I have brought here this afternoon. I would like hon. Members to notice very clearly the dates of these quotations. The first is from the "Daily Express" of 18th July 1939. The "Daily Express" told us that day, in a panel, that:There was no war last year, and there will be no European war involving Britain this year either.On 7th August, 1939, it actually said that:'Daily Express' reporters in Europe believe that there will be no war his this year.Even after the war had started, when the submarine campaign had begun and when this country, as we all know, was threatened with the worst peril to its food supplies and its shipping lines that it had ever experienced, this was the sort of thing one could read in the "Daily Express." I quote from the leader of 21st November, 1939, three months after the war had started:The public should revolt against the food rationing system, that dreadful and terrible iniquity which some of the Ministers want to adopt. There is no necessity for the trouble and expense of rationing merely because there may be a shortage of this or that inessential commodity. It is admitted everywhere now that butter is plentiful, and full supplies are coming in, and the sinking of ships in the North Sea will not interfere with them seriously. The shortage of bacon will only be temporary.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am sorry to interrupt, but it is only this. I do not see what the point of this argument is unless the hon. Member wants to control opinion by legislation
§ Mr. Jay
If the hon. Member will wait five seconds, he will see the point of my quotations. Those quotations have their funny side, but they also have their serious side, and it seems to me that such a degree of frivolity and irresponsibility at such a time amounted to little more than doing Dr. Goebbels' work for him. That, Mr. Speaker, was my calculated opinion of Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers at that time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been in some difficulty during this Debate. It is perfectly obvious that Lord Beaverbrook is associated with the "Daily Express" as Lord Kemsley is with other papers, but I think it is a pity that we should use the names of the noble Lords so often. We can say, the "Daily Express," the "Sunday Times," or whatever it may be, expressed these views, but we are not supposed to attack Members of another place.
§ Mr. Jay
Those, Mr. Speaker, were the opinions of the "Daily Express." I have already said that they were to me detestable opinions. Nevertheless, I believe, and I say with emphasis, that if those were the opinions of the proprietors or editors of the "Daily Express" they had the right to express them.
§ Mr. Thurtle
Is the hon. Member aware that when the "Daily Express" said, on 7th August, 1939, that there would be no war in Europe that year, it was quite unaware that the very next day Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany would have signed a pact?
§ Mr. Jay
It so happens that I have another quotation of 11th August, when it said the same thing, but I did not wish to weary the House by reading too many quotations. It seems to me that whatever we think of these opinions, we must allow that these gentlemen who own newspapers have a right to express them. But I ask hon. Members opposite to think sincerely whether they do not agree that this is by no means the end of the story. We have heard something about certain other newspaper proprietors today who perhaps have not been exercising the right of free- 527 dom of speech quite so long and so loudly, but have been exercising another of the four freedoms of Fleet Street, and that is, the right to buy up hitherto independent rival newspapers and form great financial combines.
Even though we must allow these gentlemen, if they do own their newspapers, to express what opinions they choose, there is another and serious issue before us. It seems to me that the proposer and seconder of this Motion fully made out their case on these grounds. That issue, which is the really serious issue, arises from the fact that newspapers nowadays are not merely a form of writing or expression, but are also an industry, and for that reason we see at work a tendency to amalgamate and combine. It is for precisely the same reason as that which is seen in other industries—the economies which can be effected by large-scale organisation. This tendency is at work not only in this country, but in other countries, and it will continue to be at work.
This tendency had gone so far in this country 20 years ago, that hon. Members will recollect that at the time of the Zinoviev letter election about 90 per cent. of the national daily newspapers were in the hands of a very few proprietors, most of whom held Conservative opinions. Hon. Members opposite will agree with me that experience shows that millionaires tend to have Conservative opinions. Whether we like it or not, there is this persistent tendency, in any political democracy where private enterprise prevails, for the great majority of newspapers to fall into the hands of a very few rich men. I ask hon. Members opposite to take this point seriously. I suggest that it constitutes a serious threat to political democracy. I believed 20 years ago, at the time of the Zinoviev letter, that there was a serious problem arising from that in this country. Perhaps I may say that it was because I felt so strongly about it myself, that I went into the profession of journalism and later joined the "Daily Herald." I felt that the realities of democracy in this country could only be saved by building up serious newspapers which held the alternative point of view. That is the real problem as I see it.
It is a real and serious problem. Nevertheless, the advice I would like to 528 give to the House tonight, very diffidently but earnestly, is that on balance we should do best to leave this matter alone. Hon. Members may ask why I say that. There is a considerable body of middle opinion on this subject. The proposer and seconder fully made out their case for saying that these abuses exist, and I do not think it is any good trying to deny them on the score of advertisements, the provincial Press and many other points. But for three reasons, I suggest that although they do exist, it may be wiser to refrain at this period from an inquiry of this kind.
My first reason is that, as compared with 20 years ago, the situation has improved. At the time of the Zinoviev letter we had something like 90 per cent. of the Press on the Conservative side. At the time of the General Election last summer, from the figures which have been given today, we can see that the figure for the national Press was more like 60 per cent. I agree that the position is not nearly as good if we include the provincial Press, but it has nevertheless substantially changed. Those who went into journalism 20 years ago to try to redress the balance can claim some sort of success for restoring the balance. Some credit should be given, in particular, to the present Foreign Secretary, who, among all his other creative achievements, first conceived the idea of a great popular "Daily Herald" supported by the T.U.C.
I believe that since the days of the Zinoviev letter, and the tricks which the "Daily Mail" used to practise, the British electorate have grown up. The British electorate have grown up partly due to the development of the great popular Left wing newspapers—the "Daily Herald," the "News Chronicle" and the "Daily Mirror" in particular. As a journalist I would say it is very easy for all sorts of people to sneer at popular newspapers, whether they are of the Left or of the Right. There are very great practical difficulties in producing a newspaper which not merely tries to express a serious political message, but also seeks to be read voluntarily by millions of readers. It is very easy to produce a propaganda sheet which no one reads. I suggest that the development of the Left wing newspapers has materially altered the situation. Although I have the greatest sympathy with, and respect for, the arguments put forward, I think that 529 some of the enthusiasts for this inquiry are in danger of falling into the same error which the Leader of the Opposition made in July, 1945—the error of not understanding that the British electorate have grown up.
My second reason is that whatever we do and say, and however innocuous the terms of reference—the ones drawn up by the mover and supporters of the Motion are as good as can be—this inquiry will be misunderstood. It will not merely be misunderstood, but it will, of course, be maliciously misrepresented, and it will not be Members on this side who will maliciously misrepresent it. I am afraid that this will lead us into a long and tedious controversy which may, in the end, do no good to any of us.
My third and last reason is that I cannot persuade myself that an inquiry will produce any very substantially useful results. I fully agree that it will bring a lot of information to light that we have not yet obtained, but I cannot help thinking that the chief result will be that, after a great deal of laborious "muck raking," we shall discover that proprietors of a newspaper, if they hold the majority of the shares, can have the right to appoint an editor, unless there is some arrangement to the contrary. We all know that already. Maybe other facts will be discovered, but I doubt whether they will throw more light on the really essential question before us—whether the present financial control of the Press is interfering with freedom of speech.
The papers for which I happened to work, the "Economist," and the "Daily Herald," have an arrangement by which political control is divorced, by the constitution of the paper, from financial control. That is a very good system and it does not deserve some of the sneers we have heard about it from the other side of the House. While we are on the subject of the "Daily Herald," perhaps I might say that the policy of that paper is not actually controlled by the Government of the day, as has been suggested, but by the Labour Party Conference, which is not absolutely the same thing. But I do not see how we can enforce such an arrangement on proprietors of a paper if they are not prepared to accept it. In any case, it seems that the material facts are well known, and I cannot persuade myself that a high-powered in- 530 vestigation would carry us very much further.
In conclusion, it seems to me that this inquiry is unnecessary, may be injurious, and, I think, will very likely be futile. What we all ought to do is to devote ourselves to building up organs of opinion which support the convictions that we ourselves hold, and, unless the case is absolutely proven, leave the rest alone. The question of the freedom of the Press is so important that I would like to see this country and the Labour Movement not merely right, but also above suspicion. Therefore, I say again, with great diffidence and with great respect for the opinions and arguments which have been put forward from this side of the House, but also with great conviction, that, on balance, I hope we shall leave things alone.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
This is a very remarkable day. It is the first day since July of last year, and, indeed, for a good many years before then, that the freely elected representatives of free constituencies of free Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen, are to be left free, by the Government of the day, to vote as they think fit on an important issue coming before this House. Yesterday we were not free; today we are free. Tomorrow freedom will have departed again. And as it departs I imagine that we shall hear its spirit pathetically complaining:If I was so soon to be done for, I wonder what I was begun for?But, at any rate, for one night we are free to make up our minds, whether we want a Royal Commission on the Press, or whether we do not.
I am bound to say that much of what we have heard during the three or four hours we have debated this matter seems, to me, with the best will in the world, to be a bit beside the point. The dearness of patent medicines is no case for having a Royal Commission into the Press. It may be a case for controlling the price of medicines. It is irrelevant to the issue to argue that we can safely vote for this Motion without fear of curtailing freedom, because journalists would not try to destroy their own liberty. I am quite sure that that is right. I do not think they would try, but I think they might easily succeed in doing so without trying, and without 531 knowing what they were doing. It is also irrelevant to argue that Lord Beaverbrook was wrong in saying, "War will not come this year, or next year." It is obvious that he was wrong in that regard. But he was not alone in being wrong, and the people in this House who thought he was wrong, were those who strongly resisted preparations for the occasion should he be wrong. So, I do not think we shall get very far by going back to what Lord Beaverbrook said, or did not say, in 1936. 1937 or 1938.
Nor do I think that we shall get far by asking what are the prospects for modern, up-to-date C. P. Scotts? One could ask what are the prospects of producing more Lloyd Georges or Churchills, and the answer is: Within the strict confinements of the party system in this House, very few indeed. In the same way as the C. P. Scotts of today will not be allowed to emerge into journalism, equally the Churchills and Lloyd Georges of tomorrow will not be able to get into this House because of the party system.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and Lloyd George emerged through the party system?
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, but that was before it became an offence for a member of any party to vote against the instructions of his party Whips. It is a matter of history, and I am surprised that it upsets hon. Gentlemen opposite so much. It is a matter of history that the first time in British politics when that rule that a Member should not vote against his party's decision was laid down in the standing orders of any party in Britain was in 1931 I believe that Lloyd George and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) emerged into politics at an earlier date than that. No, the Member who made this point was not complaining about the Press. He was complaining about the drift of events towards totalitarianism, and the difficulty of the survival of the individual, or the emergence of the individual, in something approaching a totalitarian system. The remedy for that is to oppose totalitarianism. The remedy so often propounded by Members on the other side when confronted by a partial monopoly, is that they 532 should overcome it by establishing a complete monopoly. It is true that they have expressly repudiated anything of this nature in connection with this Motion. There is an old French proverb which says: "Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute"—it is only the first step which counts; the other steps have to follow.
I am going to vote against this Motion [HON. MEMBERS: "You need not have told us."] I am sure that there is some mental concept behind that remark, but I fail to understand what it was. My vote will be cast, not on the narrow issue of whether a Royal Commission would or would not produce more information, or whether a Royal Commission would or would not reveal a little more precisely where financial control exists. My vote is going to be cast on different ground: It is that I would not trust any Government with the first steps towards controlling the Press. I would not trust, above all, a Government of which the present Lord President was a prominent Member. I would like to say a word or two about the Lord President, because of the touchingly naive introductory speech of my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, when he said that this Motion was not the product of the Lord President. He did not need to produce it; they conceived it and brought it to birth, and all he had to do was to nurse the infant and steer it on its upward way. How difficult it is to get a deputation to a Cabinet Minister. Never was there a deputation received with less difficulty and less delay than the deputation from the National Union of Journalists who took along the Motion with which this story began. They were telephonically invited to come along, and, metaphorically speaking, the red carpets were laid out, and the bands were playing to celebrate this great event. Immediately thereafter, the Lord President of the Council came out with a speech in which he approved, in principle, of the idea of a Royal Commission. The Lord President, in this matter, is an extremely dangerous man. An hon. Member quoted a remark of the right hon. Member for Woodford made some 25 years, on how to control the Press in wartime—"Square it, or squash it." In the last war, it was not the right hon. Member for Woodford who did either the squaring or the squashing. It was the Lord President of the Council. It was he who told the "Daily Mirror," during the war, that if it offended again— 533 Lord help it! It was that right hon. Gentleman who did much the same thing to the "Daily Worker." [HON. MEMBERS: "On whose instructions?"] That may be a proper question to ask, but you would not expect me to know the answer because, unhappily for Britain, I was not inside the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
I think it fair to say that my Conservative colleagues and the Lord President were fully responsible for that decision. All the Members of the Cabinet were responsible.
§ Mr. Brown
That just shows how wise it is for me to have nothing to do with either of them, and to sustain my position as the last surviving defender of English liberty. I fear that this Motion is likely to be passed because the Lord President wants it, and he wants it, in my opinion, because in that conspectus of a permanent Premiership which he nurses at the back of his mind, due to the misguided efforts of some phrenologist in his early youth, a free Press takes no part. Secondly, although the Prime Minister said that he did not want an inquiry into this, the Lord President is committed to it "in principle," which is just about as far as he ever commits himself on anything. Although the official Whips have not been put on tonight's Debate, there has been a substantial amount of activity by the unofficial Whips. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am quite sure that the upshot of this Motion will be very different from what many hon. Members think on the other side.
I am a great admirer of the editor of the "Daily Herald," and I think that the one thing that might be established by this Motion is that, if we had a Royal Commission on the Press, it might deliver the editor of the "Daily Herald" from what must be an intolerable situation day by day. We have heard a lot about editorial freedom. Here we have a case of an editor—a brilliant editor—who, first of all, does not control policy; secondly, does not control what is to be put in or left out; and, thirdly, is not even free to choose his contributors. Otherwise, his liberties are so far unimpaired. The policy of the "Daily Herald" is controlled by the Trades Union Congress—not even by the annual conference of the Labour Party. It is the General Council of the T.U.C. that controls the policy of 534 the "Herald." The poor editor suffers nightly from nightmares in case, unwittingly, he has committed a Right wing or Left wing deviation from the policy of the T.U.C. at any given moment, if whatever it is, it is ascertainable. He is not free to control policy; he is not free to control what goes in or goes out. He is bound to report the speeches of members of the General Council of the T.U.C., however intolerably dull they are. The same remarks go for prominent members of the Labour Party, because the party and Congress are linked together.
As every one of us knows, not only can he not control what is to be put in, but he cannot control what is to be left out. The "black-list" is compiled for him. There are certain people in respect of whom the orders are that they are not to be reported at all. He cannot even control his contributors. This is the way the thing works out: You cannot write for the "Daily Herald" unless you are a member of the Labour Party, if you are at all prominent in politics. That is the reason why the paper is so deadly dull. Its dullness is the despair of half the Labour Party's supporters in the country.
§ Mr. Brown
Presumably, that is why the "Daily Herald" asked for them! Out of sheer sympathy with a fellow holding down an utterly impossible job, I would, if I could, have an inquiry to deliver the editor of the "Daily Herald" from his present position. Of course, the position of the editor of the "Daily Worker" is even worse, for not only has he got to keep to the party line, but he has to follow it, and it changes with such kaleidoscopic rapidity that the editor of the "Daily Worker" is permanently engaged in chasing his own tail, and never succeeding in catching up. The Co-operative policy which governs the Cooperative Press is much more easy to follow. Dividends, dividends, dividends. It is a clear and easy line to follow. But my heart bleeds for all these fellows, and if I thought an inquiry would deliver them from this intolerable situation, I would vote for an inquiry straight away. But that is not what the outcome of this inquiry would be.
This Motion is not being welcomed by elements within the Government merely in order to have an abstract Debate. It is 535 not welcomed by elements in the Government because they want a Royal Commission to sit for five years and produce nothing. When elements of the Government make it known that they want this Royal Commission, they want it for a purpose, and for a certain end, and in present circumstances that end can be only one end, that is, either a direct curtailment of the liberty of the Press, or an extension of Government control. I am not willing to give that power to this Government. I have seen this Government, in the last few weeks, behave in the most abject and cowardly fashion on an issue involving freedom-the issue of the "closed shop." I was alone when I first raised in the House the issue of the "closed shop," but, believe me, all England will know that it is an issue between now and the next General Election. A Government which, confronted with a situation in which an Act of Parliament, the National Insurance Act, passed only recently, is set on one side by a combination of trade union activity and departmental decision, and then, when questions were asked about it in the House, says that it dare not enforce the "closed shop" or endorse it because of its fear of the powerful trade unions, a Government which has so little regard for freedom that it promptly abdicates when an issue of freedom is brought before it, is not a Government to which I am willing to give any extended powers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Listen to the Tory cheers."] I am told there are loud Tory cheers. The shame of the situation is not that there are loud Tory cheers; the shame is the dull silence on the Labour Benches when a considerable issue of freedom is raised. Consider the situation Here in the police forces of Britain they maintain the "closed shop" against trade unionism. I noticed that my worthy Friend—he will allow me to call him that—the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—
§ Mr. Brown
I do not intend to carry the point further, Sir, but I respectfully submit that it is pertinent to this Motion to ask whether the circumstances in which it is proposed to set up this Royal Commission are circumstances which ought to lead us towards the Motion or away 536 from it. It is my submission that both the character of the times, and the character of some elements in the Government, are not such as to give me any confidence whatever in the outcome of a Royal Commission on the Press appointed by them. That is an argument which is perfectly relevant.
I will not go into all these questions as to what the P.E.P. inquiry said years ago. It tells us in one place:We are satisfied that ow outline of the Press and its problems gives a reasonable general perspective,and it held out no hope, in this document, that a wider inquiry would improve that perspective. I am not going to argue about those trivial things, for they are trivial. The real issue is that, of all forms of totalitarianism, the worst kind of totalitarianism is that which touches the expression of opinion and the control of organs of opinion. There is a case for monopoly, and there is a case against it, but there is one thing for which there is no case, and that is any tendency to nationalise the opinion of the country and to suppress freedom of the Press. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who suggests it?"] I am sure that my worthy Friend on the bench opposite will be the last person in the world to do anything to limit the freedom of the Press. I am sure that is true of the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion, and their colleagues who support them. It is no part of my case that they want to impose a monopoly control of opinion, and it I have said one word which suggested that, !et me fully correct any misunderstanding now. What I suggest is something different. I suggest that they wish to embark on a course which, in a given historical situation in Britain, and with a Government of a given character, could produce no other result than restrictions upon the Press tending towards the establishment of control of opinion.
We have some evidence to work op. It is the same Government, with its present hatred of monopoly of the Press, which would not even allow the monopoly of the B.B.C.—a State monopoly of the B.B.C. to which I am unalterably opposed—to be even inquired into a few weeks ago. The Government favour monopoly when they control it. It is only when somebody else has got a hand in it that they get upset about the prospects of its continuance. This issue is 537 a vastly bigger one than a narrow debating discussion on the political advantages and disadvantages of a Royal Commission. It is a much bigger issue than that. It is because I apprehend nothing coming from it but what would tend towards the limitation of freedom, that I shall vote against the Motion in the Division tonight.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
So tar in this Debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have called many of the big names of the profession to which I belong. Some of them, like the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot), are people who have been attached full time to newspapers. Others, like the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), belong to that category to which we in Fleet Street refer rather irreverently as "pin money Percies." Possibly because he has not had a detailed experience, so far as I know, of work on the staff of a London newspaper, the hon. Member for Rugby has seen fit not to give us any new facts or new issues to consider in this Debate, but only to dilate, first of all, on a rather fanciful picture of the constitution of the "Daily Herald" and to state, secondly, the proposition that the present Government are so deceitful and untrustworthy that they cannot be trusted in any way in matters which concern the freedom of the Press. According to the hon. Member for Rugby, the Government are apparently so deceitful and so cunning that they can lay down in advance what the findings of the Royal Commission will be.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That seems to me to be one of the most staggering propositions I have ever heard put before the House, but frankly I am not concerned with the fancies of the hon. Member for Rugby. I am not a great name in the professional newspaper world, but I have spent all my working life in it. I am not a great name, as I say, because I have only twice succeeded in having my name attached to an article which I had written—and even then on the second occasion it was knocked out after the first edition. But I have done almost every job that there is to be done in newspaper work—reporting, subediting, writing the captions, and even, on one occasion, editing the paper. I therefore want to say one or two things about this Debate from the point of view of the 538 ordinary newspaper "hack." This at once brings me down from the high realm of politics to one or two very practical points which affect ordinary journalists, and which I would like to see investigated by a Royal Commission. One of them, which has been mentioned already, concerns the law of libel. I believe it would be a very good thing indeed that a Royal Commission should go very thoroughly into the whole question of the law of civil libel. As it stands at the present time, this law is an absolute menace to every newspaperman, whether a proprietor or a reporter, and any experienced newspaper man in this House knows that that is true. If one wants to bring an action against a newspaper and be successful under the present law one does not have to prove that there was any malice on the part of the newspaper or any intention to libel at all; nor does one have to prove that one has suffered damages. All that is necessary is to prove that a libel was in fact committed.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is there anything in the Motion concerning a Royal Commission on the question of libel?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I would submit that in the terms of the Motion, we do talk of matters which have as their object the furtherance of free expression. I do not want to make a debating point of it, but I think the law of libel does interfere with freedom of expression because to a very great extent it puts newspapers, whatever their political colour, into the position where they may be blackmailed. A small slip by a reporter or a sub-editor may constitute a technical libel. At once some shark will get on to that and start the whole processes of the law in order to try to "soak" the newspaper. The fear of that, over and over again, restricts the willingness and ability of newspapermen to express themselves freely.
That is one technical "house" point that I should like to see taken up by a Royal Commission, and there are other technical things which interfere with us in the execution of our duty as journalists. I have noticed a regrettable tendency in this House and elsewhere to suggest now, in contrast to what was suggested after the previous war, that it is better to conduct negotiations in secrecy. The suggestion was made from that Box by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) only a day or 539 two ago, and it is one which has gained favour not merely in this House but throughout the country. Local councils in some areas, for example, are excluding the Press from their proceedings or, if they are not excluding the Press all the time, they are adopting the trick of turning themselves into a committee of the full council so that the Press cannot get in to see what is going on. That is another way in which freedom of expression and of discussion is hindered, and is something which a Royal Commission might look into.
Another of my "house" points is the whole question of the training of journalists. We are a great profession, and yet there is no sort or apprenticeship system at all. You go into a newspaper office and ask for a job. The editor says, "Have you been on a newspaper before? "and when you say "No," you are no good, and you cannot make a start. You can get on to a newspaper only if you have had previous experience. If you have managed to barge your way into a newspaper office and have got a job, temporarily, at any rate, as I did, and as most of us have done, you find that there is no apprenticeship system. I know very well that one of the best ways of learning the technique of journalism is to practise it; but journalism is not only a technique. The sort of people who are teaching the technique, or who were teaching it when I started in journalism, were not always the best people to give the learner something else besides the technique.
I remember the editor of a newspaper on which I once served having a stand-up fight with the chief sub-editor. Halfway through the fight, the chief sub-editor said to the editor: "You are nothing better than Judas Iscariot.' "Judas Iscariot? "repeated the editor. "Boy, get me 'Who's Who'." That sounds incredible, but it illustrates the sort of thing that is likely to happen. We get our training as journalists only from people like that, as a general rule. That is not good. They may be marvellous craftsmen but a junior needs something else besides his technique. I would like to see a Royal Commission going into ways and means of establishing a proper apprenticeship system. I would also like a Royal Commission to go into the question of the setting up of Press Institutes, independent 540 of the newspapers but continually studying the practice of journalism in order to see ways in which journalism might be made better than it is at the present time.
Those are my "house" points. Now I want to go back into the realm of high politics once more. Throughout this Debate—and I have listened to the whole of it-no-one has suggested that the expression of ideas is the right field for monopoly. No-one believes that. Hon. Members are all against monopoly in the expression of ideas. I would put that more positively, by saying that the limits upon the opportunity to express oneself—there are some limits, but I will not go into that matter now—should be very wide indeed, as wide as they can possibly he made. I have never heard anybody suggest that the limits upon the expression of one's ideas are sufficiently wide at the present moment.
We have heard a number of examples tonight of the factors which restrict opportunity for expression. One of them has been the power of the advertisers. When I hear experienced journalists like the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and the hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Aitken) seriously tell this House that advertisers exercise no influence on editorial policy, I can only say that they are too innocent to live. I just want to take them out into a wood and cover them with leaves. I have had a long experience in a part of newspaper work where one is especially subject to pressure by advertising interests—on the financial side. I had many years on one paper or another and, without trying to make a debating point or to exaggerate in any way, there was never one week during the time I worked in city offices when in one way or another the pressure of advertisers was not exercised upon me. I will not go into details, but simply say that is my experience, and that is the sort of thing a Royal Commission could very well investigate.
Another hindrance to the full opportunity for freedom of expression is the establishment of chain newspapers. I think that case has been made out, but even if it has not been made out completely, I still think it is a field into which a Royal Commission could very well inquire. It is the same with newspapers which have exceptionally large circulations. The effect of those is that they tend to give over-emphasis to one particular set of ideas. I believe that a 541 prima facie case has been made out in these instances, but many hon. Members opposite who agree that a prima facie case has been made out still ask what on earth a Royal Commission can do about it. I think I know what a Royal Commission could recommend to counteract the growth of chain newspapers and tendencies towards monopoly, and I would like hon. Members to examine my suggestions.
I would like them to look at the idea of limiting the amount of advertising that any one newspaper can carry. That is possibly a solution to the difficulties which we face. They may go further and look at the idea of cutting out advertising altogether. That, again, is a practical proposition for newspapers in certain circumstances. This is the kind of consideration that a Royal Commission should look into. For what purpose? It is not the purpose of nationalisation of the Press. The hon. Member for Rugby, who made a speech so blithely and left the Chamber so sharply, said that this Government was not to be trusted with a Royal Commission, but he was apparently perfectly prepared to trust the existing owners of the Press with the making of ideas in this country. That is what they are doing. We do not want nationalisation, and we do not want what we are getting at the present moment—the mass production of ideas by the machinery of Fleet Street, which come out on the assembly lines all over the country.
What I and so many working journalists would like to get back to is the state of affairs where there are masses of small newspapers. I believe we could make possible the growth of small newspapers once again by a limitation on the amount of advertising that any newspaper can carry. If we got back to the old days of small newspapers set up all over the country, each independently owned and putting forward its own point of view, we should get several things. We should first of all get better newspaper writing. It is very difficult when one is a journalist, whatever one's political views, to find a newspaper where one can work really happily. One can find plenty of papers where there is good pay and some newspapers where there is security if one wants it, though very few journalists do. But it is increasingly difficult to find a newspaper in which one can be really interested and on which one can do a job that one 542 feels is really worth while. If one is a Conservative newspaper man and writing from that point of view, one will not always be prepared to support the Tory slant which Lord Beaverbrook or Lord Rothermere puts on Conservative policy. Then one's only opening may be the "Daily Telegraph." That may already be full up and then one is left to go as a last resort to the "Daily Herald," which is a fate worse than death for a Tory journalist. Socialists would try to get on the "Daily Herald," and if they failed they would have to gravitate to other papers. Their opportunities for expressing themselves and getting a job of work which is really in keeping with their own feelings, political views and philosophy is steadily being diminished. If, however, you had small newspapers set up again all over the country, the opportunities once more would be wide and, because people would be working on papers with which, generally speaking, they were in agreement, you would get far better writing. Perhaps more important even than that—and this is the real crux of the issue, the real reason why professional journalists want this Motion to go through—by getting small papers, each one putting a definite point of view, each one putting their own slant into it, you would get a mass of ideas being put into the common pool, being freely discussed and freely considered, and in that way you would help to lead this country nearer to democracy than it is at the present time.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I have listened to most of this Debate and I think the Motion founders at the beginning. It founders on the rock of monopoly because monopoly means exclusive control with a view to the raising of price; and whatever else may be urged against the British Press, that clearly does not apply. We have not, in fact, far to look to find a case of Press monopoly. We can find it today in Soviet Russia, and I was interested last week to hear the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) explain that in Russia one big newspaper belongs to the Communist Party which represents the people, and one belongs to the Government which belongs to the people. So there you have a virtual Press monopoly of two newspapers of similar ownership respectively called "Truth" and "News." And it has been well said that whereas there is 543 no news in "Truth," there is no truth in "News." That is the position where you have a Press monopoly in Soviet Russia, and I am entirely at one with all those who would deprecate the setting up of any Press monopoly in this country today.
What, of course, we have got—and this is common ground—are large concentrations of newspaper ownership; but these, in my submission, only amount to monopoly if they exercise restrictive practices. I think it is true to say that the newspaper industry retains a keenness of competition which is an example to many other industries in this country, where restrictive practices apply a good deal more closely than in the newspaper industry. My right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out some of the advantages that are to be gained from large concentrations of newspaper ownership, and I think it is probably right to say that, by reason of the possibility of syndicated features, and better special correspondents and so forth, on the whole the public as a result get a better product for their money than would otherwise be the case. Of course, 1 freely admit that there are disadvantages to be set against this, the chief one being the possibility of the elimination of the small local independent newspaper. I would deprecate, as much as any other hon. Member, the disappearance of small, independent, local newspapers. However, that is not a tendency which is confined to the newspaper industry; it is a widespread tendency in all sorts of other callings and walks of life; and if the hon. Members who put down this Motion are really consistent, I shall expect a similar Motion from them calling for a Royal Commission to inquire into the extent to which, for instance, the cooperative societies are driving the small local trader out of business. Surely there must be something at the least inconsistent, and at the worst hypocritical, in a point of view which finds the small local newspaper man always so virtuous and the small local builder always so vicious.
It is the background of this Motion which I find disturbing. To use a term which has been in evidence so much today, as a working journalist my self, I am fully prepared to believe that the hon. Members who put down this Motion are disturbed about the industry in which 544 they work. But they have got themselves into bad company. Their spontaneous concern coincides far too conveniently with, the wounded vanity of the Lord President of the Council. Then there is the Attorney—General. They have the disadvantage of his assistance. Now the Attorney-General is in this position—he contracted politics late. And politics are like mumps; if you contract them late, it takes you much worse. While most of us were labouring away in our political parties, the Attorney-General pursued a career at the Bar, apparently untroubled by politics. Now he has come to it late, and is determined to show that he is a politician, and not merely a lawyer. So he made an attack from which were excluded the legal virtues of moderation and accuracy. He has apologised for that attack; but, in my view, it still colours and vitiates this Motion. I consider that it was especially unfortunate that he singled out the Kemsley Press as he did, for this particular attack because, politics apart, I think it would be conceded that the Kemsley Press does appeal to the virtues rather than to the weaknesses of the reading public.
After all, what are the crimes alleged against them? As I see it, the first is that they are a big concern. I put this to the Lord President; he is never wont to disguise his belief that God is on the side of the big battalions. So how can the mere size of a concern be a crime in the case of the Press, but not in the case of the Labour movement? The second is that they are consistently Conservative. This may be a matter of surprise to the more volatile organs of opinion in this country; but it should not be a matter of surprise to hon. Members opposite, because their party organ is also consistent in its politics, although, it is true, it has a different type of consistency—not a consistency of unfettered judgment but of conscripted obligation. But the fact is, they are persistently consistent. I would ask the Lord President to bear in mind that simply to be Conservative is not a crime, except in a one-party State, or with those who wish to bring about the one-party State.
I am opposed to this Motion because I do not believe there is a monopoly in the newspaper industry, and I do not believe that there are restrictive practices such as would call for an inquiry, and because I believe it to be to some extent coloured by 545 political prejudice. But I want to make it clear that in opposing the Motion, I am by no means afraid of a newspaper inquiry. Why should I be? The Conservative Party have no party Press. As far as newspapers are concerned, I am in no position to know which of them would fear an inquiry into the Press. An inquiry into the Press, if set up, would bring out some interesting revelations. It may even, for instance, establish the ownership of the "Daily Mirror"—
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I think I should be in trouble with you, Mr. Speaker, if I did not get on with my speech.
Such an inquiry would establish some interesting things. It might even establish the ownership of the "Daily Mirror" and the "Sunday Pictorial," those twin paragons of journalistic propriety which, no doubt, the Lord President will set before the House as a model to be followed. But, in my view, even with such interesting revelations before us, we should resist the inquiry for the reasons which appear to be put forward and which, advertently or inadvertently, cloak, or seem to cloak, an attack on the freedom of the Press.
I come to the question of news, which is referred to in the Motion. I think this this has been dealt with most adequately by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). It is quite obvious that mere requirements of space dictate a necessity for compression, or even suppression, and selectivity. As far as I know, news editors are conscientious people. Naturally, different newspapers have a different slant, and people can buy the kind they want. If one wants the sort of news that is in the "Sunday Pictorial" one may get it, or if one wants the kind that is in the "Sunday Times" one may get that.
I pass to the more difficult question of the free expression of opinion. This Motion calls for "the free expression of opinion." It does not call for a balanced expression of opinion, which is practised, in my view, so successfully, by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and which means that if there is a controversial 546 subject, it must be dealt with by people of opposite views, so that out of the clash of opinion truth may come. But nobody has so far urged that newspapers, where there is no monopoly, need achieve a balanced expression of opinion. Indeed, it is clearly not in the minds of hon. Members opposite that they should, because the Left wing Press, after all, does practice the policy of the closed door to Right wing writers. We are not allowed or invited to write in the pages of their newspapers. We are less fortunate than the hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) who is in the happy position of being able to draw his spiritual nourishment from the Left, and his financial nourishment from the Right. Even the hon. Member who used to sit on the Liberal Benches wrote in the "Evening Standard" on why he had left the Liberal Party. Whether he was paid in the traditional 30 pieces of silver I am not in a position to say.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
If the Lord President of the Council who, in the nature of things, has far more of the time of this House, no doubt quite rightly, than back benchers, would permit me an uninterrupted moment, I would say that it is right for papers to have policies. It is right that those policies should be put in their leading articles, and not through feature articles written by stooges. I entirely agree with that.
What should be the relationship between the proprietor or editor and a political writer in his paper? That is a difficult question. I do not shirk it. What should that relationship be? Obviously, a political writer should have freedom of expression; but in an organised community there are always some natural restraints on complete freedom. Therefore, I will try to define it more closely, and I will, if I may, do so by parable or analogy. Suppose that in an erratic manifestation of wayward genius a newspaper proprietor engaged Karl Marx as his political writer. Suppose Karl Marx in his political writing reproduced the style and content of "Das Kapital" In that case I would say that the newspaper proprietor or editor would be perfectly entitled to say to Karl Marx that daily iteration of the theory of the 547 material conception of history was wearisome to the reading public. He would be quite entitled to say too, "Your style is too turgid and involved for the reading public." I believe that the proprietor or editor would not only be entitled to say that, but would be obliged to say it to safeguard his circulation and goodwill. But supposing he goes beyond that, and says to the political writer, "I urge upon you such and such a theme against your better judgment" or "I urge you to attack such and such right hon. Gentleman or the other," then, in my view, Karl Marx would not only be justified, but would be morally obliged to say, "I will have neither part nor lot in the thing you seek to do."
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
We are dealing with the Motion on the Order Paper. What I am proclaiming is not novel doctrine. I do not claim that it is. It would be approved not only by the vast majority of this House but in all enlightened board rooms and editorial offices of Fleet Street and throughout the length and breadth of this country. Because I oppose this Motion I am not, therefore, complacent about the Press.
I want to suggest this line of thought. I do not want to be thought to be lecturing the Press, because nothing is further from my thoughts; but I think perhaps I have some right to express a view if only for the reason that on 10th December last I initiated a discussion in this House and urged a larger allocation of newsprint for the newspapers. In that I was opposed, so far as the national papers were concerned, by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). We repeated our argument again before a wider, if not more distinguished, audience when we had a broadcast debate on this matter. The practical victory was mine, because later these additional supplies were given; but I say now that if the increased space is not wisely and imaginatively used by the Press so as to make us still prouder of the Press than we are today, then I will in retrospect concede the moral victory to the hon. Member for Devonport. With that word of explanation, I would like to reiterate what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. 548 Mallalieu) has said about the importance of good writing in journalism for its own sake. I believe that perhaps we compare badly with some French newspapers. The literary standard of "Figaro" is unequalled probably by any daily paper of its size in this country today. I want to see the status and prestige of the journalistic calling improved. Disraeli once wrote to Lord Derby referring to a man asAn Oxford man well acquainted with the Press, but a fine writer and a scholar.I would like to get rid of that "but" and substitute "and" or, if possible, even "and, of course." I also wish to refer to the discussion of ideas, which has been mentioned. I believe there has been a tendency in the popular Press of this country to stand too pat on the Northcliffe formula. The Northcliffe principle was that the presentation of popular themes was the method to achieve success, and from such themes all serious discussion was necessarily to be excluded. I do not believe that that is true today. I do not believe that any discovery or any revolution is ever final and I think there are new truths to be discovered today. I think, just taking them at random, that the success and popularity in both broadcasting and writing of people like Mr. C. S. Lewis, Mr. Harold Nicolson, Mr. J. B. Priestley, and the late Professor Hilton, proved that that is so, beyond a peradventure—that to be serious it is not necessary to be dull. It is obvious, I think, that there is this wish of the people for serious discussion today. It would be strange if that were not so as we are a people who have passed through struggles and stresses on such an unparalleled scale, and who are now faced with problems of such incomparable complexity.
We are a people whose mind is on the move and I suggest it would be a tragedy if the newspapers were not able to match their pace with that of the people for whom they write. The people do not want ex cathedra dogma or trivialities. They resent being talked down to, they do not want to be talked at; they want to be talked to, or, better still, they want to be talked with. I think there is a great opportunity in the Press today for a reassessment, taking these facts into account, and I do not think it would be commercially unprofitable to them. I say these things because I believe this to 549 be a more constructive approach, than the Motion which stands upon the Order Paper. I believe the price of quality is eternal striving and eternal sensitivity to the half articulated but wholly felt moods of the people. That is the way to lift this problem to the heights from which we can see the vista of the future, instead of depressing it into the dusty and unprofitable arena to which this Motion would consign it. Therefore, I say let this House rise in defence of the freedom of the Press: let the Press rise to the greatness of its own opportunities.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I think that many hon. Members in all parts of the House will find themselves in agreement with much of what has just been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I personally share his view that, perhaps, some of the newspapers are not sufficiently aware of the degree of progress in the education of the people and in the development of their standards of discrimination and judgment, and that they tend to underestimate the level of intelligence which the population generally has reached. When I say that, I do not under-estimate the fact that the popular Press of today is a Press of, on the whole, a better standard, catering for a better degree of education than the same popular Press did 20 or 25 years ago.
I think that progress in that respect has been made, but I still feel that some of the popular newspapers have not kept pace with the standard of intelligence which the general mass of the public have reached in our time. Therefore I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, among the aspirations which animate the newspapers and those responsible for them is that of watching this developing intelligence of the general public, so as to see that the newspapers make a proper degree of progress in accordance with it. But I cannot agree with the hon. Member in the general conclusion to which he has come.
This has been, I think the House will agree, a very excellent Private Members' day. Let it not be said that we never have a Private Members' day, because this has been one, and a very good one, and, I think, a better use of Private Members' time than that which used to take place in the past. It has been a very good Debate from all points of view, what- 550 ever point of view has been taken, and I think it has been a day well spent. I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House, whether they agreed with my hon. Friend or not, will accept my view that the speech of the mover of the Motion, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies), was a very able and competent presentation of the case, and reached a very high Parliamentary standard. It was a pleasure to hear him, and I think that everybody thoroughly enjoyed his speech.
The Debate which has followed has also been exceedingly good, commencing, after my hon. Friend, with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and then the voice of the official Opposition. I gather that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking for his party and was expressing their views about the Motion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman rather made a joke at the expense of journalistic hon. Members on this side of the House by suggesting that they had turned King's evidence. The truth is, I think, that what animated hon. Members—those who are journalists themselves—to support the Motion is a very lively concern for the welfare of journalism and newspaper men, and, therefore, it is not a question of their giving evidence against their own profession. It is that they are worried about the standards of journalism, and probably worried about its future, and therefore anxious that everything shall be done to enable the great profession of journalism to be followed with the best principles, on the highest ethical levels and with the best results to the general public.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman chided the Government with having taken a different view since the original statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in which he declined the request of the National Union of Journalists that a Royal Commission should be appointed. It is a fair point and, if I may say so, an inevitable one. But the explanation is that the National Union of Journalists passed a resolution at their conference and, after it had been passed—pretty soon after, I think—my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)—I believe it was he—put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asking whether the Government would institute the requested inquiry. It is perfectly true that, at that stage, my right hon. Friend re- 551 turned a negative answer to my hon. Friend. Subsequently, the National Union of Journalists pressed the matter. They asked for a deputation. The deputation was received on behalf of the Government, and we came to the conclusion at that stage, not that they had made out their case, but that they had made out such a strong prima facie case—on which I will give the House some information later—that the Government came to the conclusion that the request for a Royal Commission was, at any rate, worthy of consideration. It was because of that, that I was authorised by my colleagues to announce during the Debate on broadcasting that the Government thought that the request was worthy of consideration, although we had not then come to a conclusion about it.
That is the reason for the development in the Government view from a negative attitude to a willingness to give the matter consideration. The speech which I made at Lewisham had really nothing to do with this matter. It was part of the "come and go" and "knockabout" of public controversy, in which I was having an argument with certain newspapers and they were having an argument with me. I do not see why anybody should be uppish or upset by it, because a good time was had by all of us. It was all thoroughly enjoyable, but had nothing to do with the question of a Royal Commission of inquiry into the Press. Nor was it anything new. I have been fighting newspapers all my life and they have been fighting me all my life. Somebody said that I was annoyed with Lord Beaverbrook for something or other. I am not. As a matter of fact, I have done very well out of Lord Beaverbrook in politics. I believe that he was a material contributor to the winning of the London County Council for Labour, and I am perfectly sure that he and the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) gave us most valuable aid in the Parliamentary election. Indeed, let me say for Lord Beaverbrook that the first time we won a majority on the County Council—and there had been a real stand-up battle between the London Labour Party and his Lordship and his newspapers—he sent round a reporter and asked whether I would like to make any comment about himself and his conduct of the other 552 side's campaign in the election, and what we thought of the result. It is perfectly true that he let me have a column—for which, however, I did not get paid because it was an interview—in which I was free to knock his Lordship about with great vigour, and I did. It is part of the charm of Lord Beaverbrook that he permits that sort of thing. We appreciate David Low and his cartoons. They are a good commercial proposition which, I have no doubt, has something to do with his survival. But we like the way he is allowed to draw funny pictures of the proprietor, now and again, although that, in itself, does not show that the newspapers of Lord Beaverbrook are a virtuous collection of newspapers.
I am not concerned tonight to make an indictment against Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers in particular. I am concerned with certain aspects of the system. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to the adventure of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. I suppose that was inevitable, for it was, of course, a piquant event as between lawyers. Personally, one of the most determined decisions which I have ever made is not to get into a libel or a slander action if I can help it.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think it is, and I think the hon. Gentleman might do the same. One of the glories of this place is that, subject always to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, we are all safe here. I have always been most determined not to get into libel or slander actions, and one of the instructions I gave to the "teeny weeny" staff of the London Labour Party, when we were electioneering and running an eight page paper, was, "Keep clear of libel. Do not run any risk of it. Rather clip your tongue than go too far, because in a libel action or a slander action it is an absolute gamble who is going to win and who is going to lose." Therefore, I do not blame any man who keeps out of it. If my right hon. and learned Friend the present Attorney-General, faced with this issue, decided to make the appropriate words of apology, which always have to be horribly abject, and which one does not like doing, I do not blame him at all, and I would not blame anybody else. My advice to anyone is, "Keep out of these actions if you 553 can." But I am bound to say that we Ministers—and former Ministers have had the same experience—are often told by the newspapers that we are too thin skinned. Some of them have persuaded themselves that some of my hon. Friends want this Royal Commission simply because they are offended by the opinions of the Conservative Press and its abuse of the Government. Good gracious, it is nothing of the kind. We would not be influenced by a matter of that kind. Nobody sitting on these Benches could have been a Socialist or a Labour politician or a trade union leader for a long time and remain thin skinned about newspaper criticism. We have had too much newspaper criticism to be thin skinned, and even if we had not had criticism from the newspapers to make our skins a bit thicker, we have plenty of criticism from our own people. That really is nonsense.
But when the newspapers have finished falsely accusing Ministers, especially Ministers of the present Government, with being thin skinned, sensitive, resentful of criticism, which I totally repudiate and deny, what happens? When Lord Kemsley is criticised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in language no more violent than that which some of Lord Kemsley's newspapers have applied to us, who gets thin skinned? Instead of his Lordship slamming back in good style and knocking the Attorney-General about, he says, "You keep quiet or a writ for libel is coming in to you, my lad. Stop it, withdraw, apologise. I, the proprietor of goodness knows how many newspapers, will put a writ for libel or slander in against you if you do not stop." Who is thin skinned—the politicians and the Ministers, or the newspaper proprietors? The truth is that one cannot look at a newspaper proprietor twice with a questioning glance without being accused of wanting to interfere with the freedom of the Press. They are the most sensitive, delicate, thin skinned collection of people that I have ever knocked about with, and yet they themselves in their own newspapers say the most dreadful things about us, and we survive.
They knock us about and attack us very bitterly. As a matter of fact, many a Minister, some of them nowadays sitting on the other side of the House, and many of them sitting on this side of the House, 554 could have had what looked like—and I say this subject to what would happen, because it is a gamble—in all probability, a successful libel action. However, it is a tradition among Ministers, somehow, that we do not do it. I think people take liberties now and again. I cannot say we never will take a libel action; and let me say that we reserve the right to do so. I had better say that, otherwise I shall be encouraging these bad habits. However, we very rarely do so. I really think it is too bad, when a newspaper proprietor is in the ring, in the battle, that instead of hitting back at the learned Attorney-General as he could if he wanted—it is a free country and a free Press—he says: "How dare you attack me? I must not be attacked in this way. If you do so, you will get an action for slander." With regard to this incident, which was used inevitably against my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, let me say two things: I do not blame my right hon. and learned Friend, and I do blame the noble Lord.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
It the right hon. Gentleman received a threat of a libel action on the Ministry of Aircraft Production heading from one of his colleagues, what would he do in those circumstances?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is very hypothetical. I assure the hon. Gentleman I would still be very, very careful.
We heard a number of other interesting speeches, to which it is not possible for me to refer in detail. I was delighted to hear part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay), and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle). I was not surprised at the point of view of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shore-ditch because it had been intimated to me in cold print somewhat earlier on. However, I welcomed their contributions. They are perfectly entitled to their points of view. This is a monument to the fact that the Government Whips are off on this occasion, and the House will vote freely about this matter. I was also very interested to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Holborn (Mr. Aitken), in which he told us the inside story of the newspapers with which he and, still more, his father, are prominently associated. We were very glad indeed to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say. 555 The junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) put one question to which I think he would like an answer: If a Royal Commission were appointed, would it be appointed to advise action; and if it did advise action, would the Government propose to accept any advice as to action which the Royal Commission might tender? In the first place, if the Royal Commission is appointed, it will have terms of reference upon which it would be perfectly free to report; and it could make recommendations for action, or, if it thought fit, it need not make recommendations for action. It would do whichever it thought right and wise in the public interest. Clearly, if it did make recommendations for action, it would not be right at this stage to say that the Government would necessarily accept those recommendations. It would be the duty of the Government in this case, as in every other case, seriously to consider any recommendations on their merits and to come to such conclusions as the Government thought wise in the public interest at the time. I am afraid I cannot say any more than that about the point which the hon. Gentleman raised.
The National union at Journalists had, of course, a perfect right to make representations to His Majesty s Government. It is not, I know, the only professional organisation in the journalistic profession; there is the Institute of Journalists as well. But it is the case, according to the Government's information, that the great majority of journalists—and journalists of all ranks—are members of the National Union of Journalists
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
But surely not the higher ranks of journalists—editors—are members of the National Union of Journalists, not ordinary members?
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman, who is an editor himself. may know more about this than I do, but my information is that editors are admitted.
§ Mr. Morrison
I see; there may be some distinction. Of course, I know it is the usual tendency, when the National Union of Journalists says one thing, for the Institute of Journalists to say something else; and the Institute has said something else, and, apparently, does not agree with the suggestion which has been made by 556 the National Union of Journalists. But they are a responsible and a representative body, and they are certainly not a political body. I should think it would be rather difficult for any trade union representative of journalists to become a political body attached to any particular political party, though they may discuss these things from time to time.
I received the deputation on behalf of His Majesty's Government at the request of the Prime Minister. These men were exceedingly earnest, anxious and sincere men. They were really worried about the standing, status, and the future of their profession. After all, none of us can disregard the totality of the newspaper Press, Press agencies and the periodical Press; we cannot underestimate the nature of that great institution, the powerful part that they play in our national life, and, the even greater part which they perhaps could play in our national life. It is not for nothing that journalists themselves have frequently described the Press as the Fourth Estate; and, indeed, whilst I would not admit for one moment that the newspaper Press is part of the Constitution of the country, the Press as a whole, in its own way, does function as a kind of unofficial part of the British Constitution. They are part of the battle of public controversy and public argument. They are, or they ought to be, the watchdogs of the public interest. They are the most persistent critics of what they consider to be wrong actions on the part of Governments, and I would defend their right to be consistent critics of Governments in their actions; so in our subtle British way the Press of this country is, so to speak, an unofficial part of our Constitution; and the quality, the uprightness, the accuracy, and the moral purpose of the newspaper Press of our land is a matter of great public concern. This is what the National Union of Journalists felt, and I am bound to say that the Government thought, on the importance of the matter, that they were right.
These are among the things they said: They urged that the freedom of the Press, which the Press claimed from the Government of the day quite rightly, ought not to be choked by the concentration of the country's newspapers in the hands of two or three powerful commercial groups. They went on to say that in 557 past days each town or area had its independent newspaper, but that there was a tendency for these independent local daily newspapers and, what is still worse—so they said—local weekly newspapers also, county newspapers—those newspapers that are read from title piece to imprint in the hands of the people—to be gobbled up by combines of one kind or another.
They regarded this as a danger to the functioning of journalism and to the free expression of opinion. I am bound to say that it seems to me a terrible thing that a newspaper with a title like the "Newcastle Journal," or the "Sheffield Independent," or other newspapers with proud provincial titles, printed and published in proud provincial cities—because if there is any place with an independent mind of its own, it is these provincial cities, or the cities of Scotland and Wales as distinct from the Metropolis—should be acquired by a chain. These cities like to have a mind of their own, and mentally to stand upon their own feet, and I do not like to see these newspapers converted into chain newspapers. At any rate, I think it is a matter about which apprehension may rightly be felt.
The journalists went on to ask now much freedom the editor of one of a chain of group newspapers had in the control of his own journal. This is really a vital issue.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
. The hon. Gentleman is so vulnerable in his own activities that I think he would be wise to keep quiet. This is a material question. How far are these provincial editors entitled to take their own line, and how far are they directed from London? I do not want to be personal about the Kemsley chain, or Lord Kemsley, who is the principal proprietor. He and I are on speaking terms, as indeed I am with all the other newspaper proprietors. We get on quite well, except when we are scrapping. But when I was at the Home Office—and the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) was there with me, and used to see the little volume of Press cuttings that came round day by day—I went through those Press cuttings and I was mystified for quite a number of days because I would read a leading 558 article from the "Daily Something" of the North, or Scotland, and several pages further on in the volume of Press cuttings I would read another leading article and then scratch my head and say, "Are you dreaming? You must have mixed the pages up. you have read that article before." I could not make it out. Later on I would find myself reading the same leading article a third time. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but this is one of the most grave situations in British journalism at the present moment. And then I would read yet another one that was the same. So I made inquiries, and the answer was simple—these were all Kemsley newspapers.
I have been assured by journalists, and I hope the noble Lord will give evidence on this point and produce the records—I hope that he is not stopping the practice too early—that directives come from the back of Gray's Inn Road, in London, to those provincial newspapers, instructing each of the editors on what lines the leading article is to be the next day, and sometimes what the feature article is to be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members say, "Why not?" This practice of provincial newspapers having their policy and editorials imposed upon them and directed from London—and I am a Londoner myself—instead of being the product of local thought of the editors in the provincial cities, is a bad thing. It is seriously open to question, to put it mildly, and is a subject which ought to be inquired into. It is one of those matters which affects the dignity of the journalist, and about which the journalist is very much concerned.
The National Union of Journalists also asked how far news was suppressed or manipulated to serve a particular point of view in national or international affairs. Were papers instructed to report prominent men or women or what amount of attention to give them, according to some plan decided in the central office of the group? Finally, they asked whether advertising and financial interests exercised any influence over the editorial content of a paper? I am not giving the answer to these questions tonight. The only real question for the House is this. Is newspaperland—the world of the Press agencies and periodicals—an institution of such public importance that from time to time it should be subjected to an impartial 559 inquiry? On the other hand, is it of such an exceptional character that it should be exempt from any investigation or inquiry? Is journalism a profession for which there must be perfect freedom from any investigation? We have committees on dentists and dentistry, and we have investigations into the position of doctors.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a foolish one—thank you very much. We have committees on midwives, and on a whole series of things—universities, teachers and so forth.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown
I accept the rebuke of the right hon. Gentleman, but may I ask him whether it is not still more important that we should prevent anything approaching the closed mind?
§ Mr. Morrison
No one is more delighted than I that the hon. Member should be conscious of that danger. But to get back to where we were, the question now is whether journalists and newspapers alone are to be outside and above inquiry. Is everyone else to be the subject of inquiry, but not newspapers or journalists? [HON. MEMBERS: Or the B.B.C."] I come now to the B.B.C. I have told the House already that in due course the Government will authorise an inquiry into the B.B.C. From where did the clamour come for an inquiry into this public service, which itself is not allowed to have an opinion at all? It was the newspapers, and yet when it is a question of inquiring into the newspapers, they say, "Oh, yes, for the B.B.0 but not for us." Having listened to the Debate, and having considered the responsible representations which the National Union of Journalists have made, I think that the case for a Royal Commission is made, and it is for the House to vote, and freely to vote, in the way which it thinks is right.
§ Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether,' when the original Resolution of the 560 National Union of Journalists was put to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister did not inquire at the time into the reason behind that Resolution.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. He did not at that time. In any case, they came later with a request for a deputation.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Would the right hon. Gentleman help us about the dates, as it is rather important? Is it correct that the National Union of Journalists came along before the right hon. Gentleman made his pronouncement on i6th July, or is it correct that they came along on 22nd July, after the right hon. Gentleman had given a lead by his pronouncement?
§ Mr. Morrison
I would not be sure, from memory. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be right, but I gave no decision on behalf of the Government. All I said on the Debate on broadcasting was that the Government thought the request worthy of consideration. No decision was given. It was after the deputation had been received that we became more convinced that it was worthy of consideration. After having listened to this Debate, we take the view that a case has been made out for an inquiry. That does not commit us to action. We shall see what comes out of it. We believe that an inquiry ought to be held, that evidence should be heard, and that a Royal Commission should make such report and recommendations as they think wise. As one who has dabbled in journalism, I believe that at the end of it all journalism will not be hurt. The freedom of the Press will not be damaged. That is the last thing the Government want to do. We have a healthy mind on that subject. But we believe that an inquiry and investigation will render a service to British journalism, and help it on its onward march to greater and greater heights of public service.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The hon. and learned Gentleman should know that when a Minister stands at this Box he is speaking for the Government.
§ Mr. Maude
It is a little late, perhaps, to put it in that way. I was under the apprehension that the Lord President was to speak for himself; now we understand that that is not so, but that he spoke for the Government. May I put before the House certain reasons which may appeal to Members before voting on this Motion? We have heard a great many journalists today make excellent speeches, including the mover and seconder of the Motion. But have not the journalists taken themselves a little too seriously? Are they not thinking that the British pay far more attention to what they write than, in fact, they really do? May I give an example? Looking up previous Debates on this subject, I came across what, I hope, Members will think is a wise observation. It was made by Sir Martin Conway in 1928, when he said:The great nursery of opinion is in the speech of man to man. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1928; Vol. 215, C. 2084.]I believe that to be true, and that the House will think that the larger newspaper combines have become, the less powerful they have become. I have no interest of any sort in Lord Beaver-brook. Once I had an interview with him in Washington, which was not very comfortable. I do not know Lord Kemsley, and I do not really mind about either. But I believe that as they have become bigger, they have exercised less influence in politics. [Laughter.] No, Members opposite cannot have it both ways. The Lord President said that the Beaverbrook newspapers had helped him tremendously, and you laughed. That is probably true. But they cannot now take it the other way, and say that those papers hurt them very much indeed.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Were you laughing? I heard the hon. and learned Member say, "You laughed."
§ Mr. Maude
May I refer to the P.E.P. report, which appears to have wisdom in it? In its recommendations, in 1928, it states:Any realistic attempt to recommend improvements in the British Press, must clearly grasp the fact that progress depends far more on such intangibles as better education and a heightened sense of responsibility than upon any structural or mechanical changes which can be given effect either by national legislation or by administrative measures of the professional bodies and managements concerned.562 It states further:We are satisfied that the British Press as it exists today is incomparably superior as a vehicle of information and as an organ of opinion to any Press wholly or substantially under Government control in non-democratic countries. ߪ The Press is giving reasonably efficient service. … It is impracticable to contemplate the general publication of newspapers by any agency except large-scale joint-stock companies.May I turn to the very weak argument of the Lord President of the Council in his desperate attempt to deal with the difficulties of the Attorney-General? The Lord President was speaking truly when he said that he himself kept clear of libel. No doubt he does. I doubt whether he has ever apologised, or any single Member on the Front Bench has ever apologised, in the way that the learned Attorney-General apologised. The point of my observation is only that it is idle to say that one dare not go into the courts. The law of libel is not so stupid, or so bad, that His Majesty's judges are not able to do justice. It is impossible not to realise that it would have been quite futile for Lord Kemsley or anybody else to bother himself with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), when, in fact, the same sort of objectionable statement had been made by the Attorney-General of England who, with all his knowledge of the law, thought fit to make a humble, decent and full apology. It is possible—I quite agree with the hon. Member for Devonport—for news to be distorted. Some years ago, the Prince of Wales went to Yarmouth, and five outstanding skippers of the ships there were presented to him. The telephone went wrong, and the next morning the "Daily Express" reported that "five outstanding" kippers had been presented to him. How difficult it is to please everyone, if you are a reporter. After broadcasting in "The Week in Westminster," when I tried my hardest to be fair, I was a little startled when I got back from the B.B.C. to be congratulated, first of all, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I was a little doubtful as to whether I had done right. Almost immediately afterwards, I was congratulated, in the warmest possible terms, by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and, eight days later. Mr. Hannen Swaffer said that he hated the whole thing.
The hon. Member for Devonport drew rather a pathetic picture of the possibility of the decease of the "Manchester 563 Guardian." That sort of evidence is quite hopeless, if it is intended to induce this House to believe that something terrible is going to happen. If the United States of America has had its papers halved, what does it matter? The United States has every conceivable kind of newspaper. If all the 25 journalist Members of this House started their own papers, it would be a very difficult thing, to have to hunt through them all to see their different views. It is really a little exaggerated to complain that there is a monopoly. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has withdrawn that. He says there is no monopoly, but that there is a monopolistic tendency. There may be a tendency of some sort, but the question is whether there is any sign of any danger. May I quote to the House something from "The Times" of 17th August, which seems to be to the point?After seeing the American Press, they should thank God for the British Press, declared Mr. Jarman, the acting general secretary, when the National Union of Seamen's Conference in London yesterday rejected, without dissent, an Aberdeen motion to limit the publications for which he should write. He should not, it was contended, write for journals controlled by millionaire Press lords. When the Press was alleged to twist and distort facts to back up the Tory line, Mr. Jarman retorted, 'Twisting round is not all on one side, and I have had no twisting from the millionaire Press. For the help given them during the war and the sympathy behind it, he moved a vote of thanks to the Press by turning down the Aberdeen motion'."—and they did. I would like to deal with the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Maldon. He was challenged—and he was prepared for it, for he had everything ready—to give examples of how the advertisers affected the Press. Let me remind the House what he told us. First of all, there was a complaint about patent medicines. The proper way to control that is not to have a Royal Commission on the Press, with all the waste of time, but to tackle the purveyors of patent medicines, and, if you like, prevent people from selling twopenny-worth of bicarbonate of soda for 5s. But do not have a Royal Commission to inquire into the Press because of patent medicine advertisements. Next, there was drink and liquor. All I have to say about that, as the hon. Member said he is not a teetotaller and then made a joke about "Guinness is good for you," is to 564 ask him what he thinks is good for him, and would he like an advertisement about it? The third example he gave was about astrologists. He told us how the astrologer in his newspaper—I forget what it was, but probably it was a Beaverbrook paper, because it is astonishing how long the old Beaverbrook boys, in spite of their chafing, in spite of what they were going through, in spite of their amazing powers of getting on in the world, stay with Lord Beaverbrook—
§ Mr. Maude
The point about the astrologer was that he said it was going to be dangerous to fly next month, but the newspaper had an advertisement about Imperial Airways coming in, and therefore, a compromise was put in by the editor of the paper saying that the prophecy did not apply to British airlines. All I can say is that, if that is the sort of evidence which the hon. Member for Maldon will give before a Royal Commission—and I suppose it is, because surely this House is just as important—it is simply deplorable. In spite of the prominence of the Lord President of the Council in this matter, this Back Bench Motion, when it comes to be thought about quietly in a few days' time, will result in the hon. Member for Maldon, thinking of astrology, as he will, after this, turning to the hon. Member for Devonport, and saying:The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.May we not say that probably the best speech we have heard since we have been together was that made by the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris), who drew certain conclusions from what he knew, and gave facts and figures? He stated, first of all, that it was a grave thing to appoint a Royal Commission and that it was a waste of time unless really needed. May I add to that by asking who is going to sit on such a Commission? What great and distinguished men are we to take away from their duties at this time.
After the speeches made against us at Election time one would have hoped that instead of the Labour Party, Members of the Labour Party, or a group of Mem- 565 bers, starting in against something which showed a monopolistic tendency, they would really have started in against a monopoly, not a body which simply showed a monopoly tendency. Again, the hon. Member for Cambridge University pointed out that there was no evidence to support the attack on Lord Kemsley, and also that there was a tendency away from monopoly. Will hon. Members follow me when I remind them that the Mover of this Motion went back to 1921 and stated that between then and now there had been monopolistic tendencies shown? If he had started with the P.E.P. Report in 1938, which seems a fairly reasonable date to start from 17 years later, that Report said:It does not, however, appear that this trend is still continuing rapidly, if at all. In 1930 the three dailies of the Harmsworth and Beaverbrook groups accounted for a trifle under 4o per cent. of total morning daily circulation; in 1937 their share was only a fraction above 4o per cent., their combined circulations having expanded only very slightly faster than the circulation of morning dailies as a whole. One large group (the Berry group) was broken up into three parts in 1937.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes
Since the hon. and learned Gentleman continues to quote from the P.E.P. Report, would he refer to page 165, which shows the conclusions, where he will find the following words:Again, is it desirable that the recent tendency towards fewer and fewer national newspapers, each dominated more and more by the urge for mass circulation, should continue further towards its logical conclusion of a monopoly, or some monopolies perhaps?
§ Mr. Maude
I am sorry, they are not. May I tell the House, as I have it here, that the journalists are again taking the matter much too seriously? If they refer to the P.E.P. Report, which is a useful thing to do, they will discover what people really take an interest in. For instance, take the national morning papers. Does the House imagine that everybody in the country is looking eagerly to see what hon. Members have said? The most popular things are acci- 566 dents. Next comes the weather, next local events, and then, all in order of importance, crime, divorce, trade union affairs, labour and municipal questions, and personal gossip. They are some of the things readers look for first, and even obituaries come before one reaches Parliamentary reports.
In conclusion, "The Times" itself said something in July of this year which it seems to me I should put before hon. Members who are really trying to be independent about this, and which backs up what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge University:Most of the facts relevant to the attack or defence of its conduct as an organ of the body politic are already public property; there was, for instance, an exhaustive report published by P.E.P. just before the war which with little labour could be brought up to date. The facts being ascertained, political action for the reform of the Press is another matter; it would be difficult indeed to frame legislation, with the best intention, that would not strike through the freedom of the Press, at a primary liberty of the people, the right to read what they liked.May I say this, to the hon. Member for Devonport? He is, I am sure, quite mistaken when he says that we could not frame legislation to prevent any editor from distorting the truth. It is very simple and has been done in the Share-pushing Act which, the hon Member will find, makes it an offence it anybody either recklessly, or knowing the facts are misleading, publishes anything or uses any words or makes representations that are misleading. Indeed, it would be as simple as anything, if we all took leave of our senses, to pass a similar Act to punish editors who put out misleading reports.
I am inclined to think that the hon. Member who referred to the closed shop first, when there was an interchange between the Lord President of the Council and himself, may be right and this proposal is not only for a closed shop, but a closed mouth and a closed mind. It is a bad beginning in attacking monopolies. and I advise the House to reject the Motion.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) said he was fighting to retain the independent mind in this matter. I hope to be able to persuade him, and those who think with him, to give this Motion a unanimous 567 vote. I see no reason why there should be any Division in this House upon the terms of the Motion, or upon the proposition that the Motion contains. It has been argued that this is a political matter, and that the Government intend to interfere with the freedom of the Press, because Ministers are annoyed at the way in which their work has been criticised by newspapers. It is difficult to see how that argument can be sustained, alongside the other argument that the whole project is meaningless, cannot produce anything useful, and is likely moreover, to embarrass the Government. Both arguments cannot be sustained together. Those hon. Members who are opposed to the proposal must make up their minds to which argument they adhere.
In fact, neither argument has any substance at all. It is no doubt true that Ministers are annoyed by criticisms of their work. All Ministers and all Governments have been annoyed by criticisms of their work. Earlier in the Debate an hon. Member gave this House evidence of it from the lips of Lord Baldwin. I recollect that in the last Parliament, in the days of the Coalition under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) the right hon. Gentleman was at variance with the Press even more than are the present occupants of the Front Bench The language used by the right hon. Member would make the language used by the Lord President of the Council seem tepid and insipid. I remember, in my capacity as a journalist, having to preside over a function attended by editors and other executives, and at which the right hon. Member for Woodford was to be the principal speaker. There was some difficulty in getting the journalists from the drinking to the other part of the function, and I said to the right hon. Gentleman, "We are rather like a lot of sheep, aren't we?" The right hon. Gentleman stuck out his jaw, glared at everybody and said. "Yes, bloody black sheep"
This is nothing new. There is no new phenomenon about the sensitiveness of Government Front Benches. The most sensitive instrument I know—and I know it from inside and outside—is the Press itself. Every time anybody dares to answer back, it really will not do to denounce that person as one who wants to limit the freedom of the Press. The 568 freedom of the Press is important, but the freedom to answer the Press is no less important. What has been going on in recent months is the kind of thing that has been going on for many years in this country It has nothing at all to do with the proposition in the Motion before the House. The demand for an inquiry would have come before this House whatever Government had been in power and whatever party had been elected at the last Election. It is not a sudden development at all. It has been maturing over many years. I happen to be a member of the Executive Council of the National Union of Journalists and can speak with some authority on the history of this matter. I know it was considered long ago when nobody ever dreamt that there would be a Labour Government in this House at this time. As a member of the Executive Council I recollect that some years ago we were instructed by the members of the Union to prepare a report on our postwar policy. We prepared such a report. We took it to our delegate meeting They threw it out and referred it back on the ground that we had left untouched the basic question of the trend towards monopoly in the industry.
The following year I, myself, was given the job of trying to prepare a new and more acceptable report dealing with the economic trends in the industry. I and those who shared the investigation with me, came to the conclusion that it was quite impossible for us to arrive at any accurate estimate of the economic trends in the industry unless we had available much more information than was then at our disposal. So, the next report was put before the annual delegate meeting with the explanation that if the Union wanted more information about monopolies, some form of wider independent judicial inquiry must be undertaken in order to get that information accurately to assist us. That report went through.
The following year—that is, this year—the Union itself unanimously adopted a motion which requested the Executive Council to approach the Government with a request for the appointment of a Royal Commission. That is the inception of the matter. If the party opposite had been elected to power at the last election, the Motion would have come before them. I am bound to think, knowing their philosophy and point of view, that they would have adopted it and we should have heard 569 none of the things we have heard today about political interference and interfering with the Press.
I must declare that the National Union of Journalists is not a political union. Its members are not all star artists who appear in this House but for the most part the ordinary hard-working journalist whom hon. Members see weekend after weekend reporting their speeches in the provinces. That type of man is on the whole neutral politically. On the whole, he is not inclined to dabble in politics because he feels it is at variance with his job. He is the type of man who has formed this opinion and made this request. He is very apprehensive about his future if something is not done to stop the trend towards monopolies. When next in their constituencies hon. Members opposite should consult that type of man and see what he feels about this proposal, because he really is the National Union of Journalists and it is from him and his colleagues that this proposal has come. He and his colleagues are not concerned with whether or not this Government gets a fair show in the Press They are concerned with tendencies and developments in the industry which in their view and in their experience threaten to destroy the independence and integrity of journalism. They see very grave dangers to the high traditions of their profession in the gradual commercialisation of the Press and the gradual diminution of the small concerns.
All of us as journalists are profoundly concerned about the growing disbelief of the public in newspapers. Hon. Members on all sides are conscious of it. In many respects the public does not believe in newspapers any more. The public sees in the newspapers one morning that Goering has gone boldly to the scaffold, and later they hear that he committed suicide. They see in one newspaper that the Duke of Windsor lost £100,000 worth of jewels, in another newspaper they see it is £50,000 worth and in another £25,000. Only this week they saw two identical photographs in separate newspapers of Pandit Nehru, one covered with bloodstains and the other not, and they ask questions about it. They ask questions about them and there is this growing disbelief in newspapers about which all journalists are really concerned The House cannot lightly dismiss the opinion of men who are in the business and who are, in fact, constructing the newspapers. We are told that the 570 Conservative Party are the sole custodian of the interests of the little man. Well, if they are, they should vote for this Motion tonight, because this Motion is designed to protect the little man in journalism against predatory commercial interests in Fleet Street We are told that the Conservative Party are out to destroy monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) announced that at Blackpool, and I believe that they are. Now here, at least, is an opportunity to investigate an incipient monopoly; here, at least, is an opportunity to investigate a trend which, in our judgment, will end in monopoly unless something is done about it.
It has been argued that there is no need for anxiety because the monopoly has not arrived, but the time to deal with monopolies is when they are developing, not when they have arrived. Once they have arrived, there is only one solution if the public interest is at stake, and that is a solution that hon. Members will not take, that is, to apply to them the principles of Socialism and make them publicly owned undertakings. That is something we cannot do with the Press; we simply cannot have State ownership of newspapers. If ever there were any attractions in that idea, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford destroyed then in 1926 in the "British Gazette." No, I am wholly against the State running newspapers but, if we do not come in a few years' time to something near an absolute monopoly, then we shall seriously have to consider what we shall do about it.
What we are asking is that we should now, in the light of the known facts, try to assess how far this trend will take us, how far it is going, and, if we are satisfied that it is a dangerous trend, try to discover some adequate and some reasonable remedies. No Government can do that. It would be quite improper for the Government itself to interfere with and to examine the work of the Press. A Royal Commission is an ideal instrument for this purpose; it is the most independent and judicial body we have ever had in this country and, having that type of body, completely free from any restraint or duress or interference from the Government, we can have complete confidence that its findings will be honest findings, acceptable findings, judicial findings, findings that may offer us some solution 571 of the problems that are admittedly before us in this great industry.
Hon. Members opposite may agree that that is all very well, but they may then ask, "But are there any tendencies? Is it true that there is this tendency towards monopoly in this industry?" The hon. Member who opened the Debate gave certain figures; no answer has been given to those figures in this Debate, and those figures are very relevant and very important. He has shown that in the last 25 years half the morning papers of this country have vanished and a quarter of the evening papers have vanished. I have not the latest figure for the disappearances in the field of weekly newspapers but they are, as I know quite well, the worst of all. Perhaps the best example known to me is that in my own native city of Lancaster. Some years ago there were two very good independent newspapers in that city, one run by a Conservative family, one by a Liberal family; excellent newspapers, carrying on a tradition, and built into and integrated with the life of the community. A combine from London managed to buy up the Liberal newspaper, and it ran that Liberal newspaper all the time seeking to get control of the Conservative newspaper. Two or three years ago it bought up the Conservative newspaper, not for the purpose of carrying it on, but for the purpose of putting it out of business. All that is left now of that Conservative newspaper is the title on the heading of the Liberal newspaper with which it is now incorporated. The important thing about that is that this city now only has one newspaper, and that newspaper controlled by a chain operated here in Fleet Street in London.
I see it weekly, and rarely do the leading articles deal with local issues. More frequently, the type of leading article is the identical leading article which I see in other parts of the country. Journalists have a vivid recollection of the war to establish a monopoly in Bristol, and the war to establish a monopoly in Newcastle. The technique is well-known. The predatory interest comes along, and tries to do a deal. If the paper on the spot does not come in and play the game, war is declared to bring it to its knees.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
Will the hon. Member tell us what happened in 572 Bristol? The people did not come whining to the House for a Royal Commission, but protected themselves by organising their own paper, which is a flourishing newspaper to this day.
§ Mr. Webb
I have no time to develop that, but the hon. Member's intervention rather proves my point. Does the party opposite really think that this is a good thing? Do they feel satisfied that we can sit back and allow this kind of thing to continue without asking about it, without inquiring about it, to try to find out just what it means, and where it is leading us? Journalists are concerned about this matter for wider interests, because monopoly means that they themselves become increasingly subject to interference with their work. I could bring before the House considerable evidence of the kind of directives that are issued from the headquarters of chain newspapers, but I will content myself by quoting one directive sent to a reporter on a Northcliffe newspaper in Newcastle in 1931. It says:Every line you write must be aimed at strengthening Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's candidature in Seaham, and increasing his majority. Nothing which can possibly adversely affect Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's candidature is to be allowed.Other journalists can produce scores and scores of similar directives. We are profoundly concerned about this. If the newspaper world were to remain an open market where there was free competition, this particularly insidious development of personal control and personal interference would, perhaps, on the whole, not be a dangerous thing. But, when we get monopoly, when competition disappears, when there is no really free market among newspapers, then this kind of personal power, this kind of personal dictatorship over the work of journalists becomes absolutely indefensible and dangerous. It is for these reasons that we are asking the House to adopt this Motion, and unanimously declare that it is at least in favour of inquiry and investigation.
There are many proposals which require investigation, and many types of ownership which might be considered. The National Union of Journalists have many proposals to put before a Commission, if it is appointed. We ask the House to look at this matter, not from the point of view of politics, but of public interest, and the welfare of the people of this country. As a journalist I want this 573 Commission, as a citizen I want this Commission, as a Member of Parliament I believe it my duty to vote for this Commission.
§ 9.59 P.m.574
§ Will the terms of reference be sufficiently wide to take in the question of the closed shop confined to members of the National Union of Journalists?
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 270; Noes, 157.575
|Division No. 288.]||AYES.||10.0 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||McEntee, V. La T|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Ewart, R.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)|
|Allighan, Garry||Fairhurst, F.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Farthing, W. J.||McLeavy, F.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Austin, H. L.||Follick, M.||Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Forman, J. C.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Balfour, A.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Gaitskell, H. T. N.||Marshall, F. (Brightside)|
|Battley, J. R.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Mathers, G.|
|Bechervaise, A. E||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mayhew, C. P|
|Benson, G.||Gibbins, J.||Medlicott, F.|
|Berry, H.||Gibson, C. W.||Mitchison, Maj. G. R.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Gilzean, A.||Montague, F.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Binns, J.||Gooch, E. G.||Morley, R.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Goodrich, H. E.||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mort, D. L.|
|Bramall, Major E. A.||Grenfell, D. R.||Moyle, A.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Grey, C. F.||Murray, J. D.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Grierson, E.||Nally, W.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Gunter, Capt. R. J.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Guy, W. H.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hale, Leslie||Noel-Buxton, Lady.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Byers, Frank||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Orbach, M.|
|Callaghan, James||Hardy, E. A.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Carmichael, James||Harrison, J.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Parker, J.|
|Champion, A. J.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Chetwynd, Capt. G. R||Herbison, Miss M.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Clitherow, Dr. R.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hobson, C. R.||Pearson, A|
|Cobb, F. A.||Holman, P.||Peart, Capt. T F|
|Coldrick, W.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Perrins, W.|
|Collick, P.||Horabin, T. L.||Platts-Mills. J. F. F.|
|Collins, V. J||Hoy, J||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Colman, Miss G. M||Hubbard, T||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Cook, T. F.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N W)||Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Pursey, Cmdr. H|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Randall, H. E|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Ranger, J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Irving, W. J.||Rankin, J.|
|Daggar, G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Reeves, J.|
|Daines, P.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Richards, R.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||John, W.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Robens, A.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Keenan, W.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Deer, G.||King, E. M||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Delargy, Captain H. J.||Kinley, J.||Robertson, J. J (Berwick)|
|Diamond, J||Kirby, B. V.||Rogers, G. H R.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lavers, S.||Sargood, R.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Scollan, T.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lever, N. H.||Scott-Elliot, W|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Levy, B. W.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.|
|Durbin, E. F. M.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Shurmer, P.|
|Edelman, M.||Longden, F.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Lyne, A W.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||McAdam, W.||Simmons, C. J|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McAllister, G.|
|Skeffington, A M.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Tiffany, S.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Timmons, J.||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Titteringlon, M. F.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)||Tolley, L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Snow, Capt. J. W.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Soskice, Maj Sir F.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Sparks, J. A.||Viant, S. P.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Stamford, W.||Wadsworth, G.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Stephen, C||Walkden, E.||Williamson, T.|
|Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)||Walker, G. H.||Willis, E.|
|Stokes, R. R.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Strachey, J.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Summerskill, Dr. Edith||Watkins, T. E.||Woods, G. S.|
|Swingler S.||Watson, W. M.||Wyatt, W.|
|Symonds, A. L.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||West, D. G.|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff)||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES;|
|Mr. Hadyn Davies and Mr. Foot.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Osborne, C.|
|Aitken, Hon. Max.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Peake Rt. Hon. O.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hollis, M. C.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Hope, Lord J.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R S. (Southport)||Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hurd, A.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry).|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Birch, Nigel||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Jay, D. P. T.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bowen, R.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bower, N.||Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Keeling, E. H.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hilthead)|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Kerr, Sir J. Grail,||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr Roland|
|Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Lang, G.||Ross, Sir R.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Scott, Lord W.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'Id'n)||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Linstead, H. N||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lloyd. Maj. Guv (Renfrew, E.)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Cole, T. L.||Low, Brig. A. R. W.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Snadden, W. M.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Spence, H. R.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||McCallum, Maj. D.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|De la Bère, R.||Macdonald, Sir P. (Isle of Wight)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)|
|Digby, S. W.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Dodds-Parker A. D.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Taylor, Vioe-Adm. E. A (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Drewe, C.||Maclean, Brig. F. H. R (Lancaster)||Teeling, William|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Macmillan, Rt Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Eccles, D. M||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F|
|Eden. Rt. Hon. A.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thurtle, E|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Marples, A. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Turton, R. H.|
|Fox, Sqn.-Ldr. Sir G.||Marshall, S. H (Sutton)||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Mellor, Sir J||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Gage, C.||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||White, Sir D. (Farnham)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Morrison, Maj. J G. (Salisbury)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Glossop, C. W H.||Naylor, T. E.||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Nicholson, G.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Grimston, R V.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P||York, C.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Nutting, Anthony||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hare, Hon J H. (Woodbridge)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Harris, H. Wilson||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Mr. J. Maude and Mr. Derek Walker-Smith.|
That, having regard to the increasing public concern at the growth of monopolistic tendencies in the control of the Press and with the object of furthering the free expression of opinion through the Press and the greatest
practicable accuracy in the presentation of news, this House considers that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the finance, control, management and ownership of the Press.