§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move,That this House, having taken into consideration the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press (Cmd. 7700) would welcome all possible action on the part of the Press to give effect to the Commission's conclusions and recommendations.In submitting to the House the Motion with regard to the Royal Commission on the Press which stands in the names of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and myself, I am sure that all sides of the House will join with me in expressing our very grateful thanks to the Royal Commission, and also its staff, for their labours, for the very great effort they have made and for the production of an exceedingly important report on the British Press. Whether we agree with the Report or not in particular respects, I think everybody will agree that it is a most valuable survey of the British Press and a most valuable study of the problems of journalism in our country. I think the House would expect me on its behalf to express our thanks and appreciation to the Chairman and members for their labours and to the staff of the Royal Commission for the excellent services which they have rendered.
We shall be talking a good deal today about the Press, and I hope the House will permit me to read something which has been drawn to our attention by the Newspaper Society, a body highly representative of the provincial newspaper Press, Among the matters which they have submitted to the Government, they have said that the point which the Society emphasised in its evidence to the Royal Commission and which it wishes again to bring strongly before the Government is this: 2684There is no such homogeneous collection of newspapers as can be classed under one heading as the Press. Strictures on the Press as a whole are very unfair to the vast majority of newspapers.I think there is a great deal of truth in that observation. We are liable to be damaging in references to the Press when we may mean particular organs of the Press, and, on the other hand, the Press is sometimes inclined to think that the whole of the newspaper world is attacked when in fact a criticism is only being made of one newspaper or a limited number of newspapers. Therefore, if any of us should slip into references to the Press when we mean particular organs of the Press or particular types of newspapers, I hope we may be forgiven, because I think it is a perfectly fair point which the Newspaper Society has raised.
It is evident from the comments of some organs of the Press that in some quarters there has been forgetfulness of the circumstances in which the Royal Commission on the Press was set up. For example, one of the themes which ran through some of the comments of the Press was that the Commission rejected the idea of State control of the Press or State newspapers, and it is true that the Commission did reject any such idea, but the implication which has been drawn from it is quite false. That implication in a number of organs of the Press has been that the Government, or members of the Labour Party or the National Union of Journalists, had suggested State interference with the Press or State ownership. [Laughter.]
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) is in one of his giggling moods, and, if he wants to prove that we did urge State ownership or State control of the Press, possibly he will have another opportunity, but, in the meantime, he should suppress his mirth, because he may be called upon to explain what that mirth means, in which case he would be un lucky. It is the case that the Royal Commission itself stated—and it does not seem to have made much impression either upon the right hon. Gentleman or upon some of the newspapers—in its Report, in paragraph 573, that it was not suggested by a single witness that newspapers should be owned by the State.
2685 Another idea which certain newspapers have sought to foster is that the Commission has vindicated the Press against the criticisms which were made before it was set up. These words "vindicated" and "vindication" were the most favoured words in the headlines on that famous Thursday morning. The "Evening Standard," one of our London evening newspapers, certainly went to it in the way of headlines which were calculated to mislead their readers, unless the "Evening Standard" had not read the Report, in which case it was not calculated but due to lack of knowledge. The headlines said:Socialist attack thrown back.The newspapers are vindicated.Royal Commission clears the honour of the Press.The public need have no misgivings.No corruption, no monopolies, no State interference.Plan for a voluntary Press Council.The attack that failed.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I appreciate those cheers; they are eloquent of the position of some hon. Members.
The "Daily Graphic" had a headline:Royal Commission rejects State control.British Press is vindicated.
§ Mr. Morrison
I have not got it by me; I should imagine that it was a descriptive and factual analysis.
There were one or two sad results of the way in which many of the newspapers treated the Report of the Royal Commission. One was that it brought upon the Press a reproof from a member of the Royal Commission, to which I shall refer later on, but the most notable and tragically sad result of parts of the Press not correctly describing the Report of the Royal Commission was that the Opposition got completely misled on that Thursday.
The result was that, as the Opposition had not read the Report, but had read the "Evening Standard" headlines and others, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was in a great mood of victory. He was almost aggressive in demanding that there should be an early Debate on the Report, and it 2686 was perfectly clear from the sparkle in his eye that he was looking forward, within a few days, to rolling the Government and many of my hon. Friends who had criticised the Press, in the mud, and, possibly, he was looking forward to rolling me in the mud also.
§ Mr. Morrison
It will be all right on the day. Of course, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington was completely misled, as were his hon. Friends. They had been reading some of the newspapers which had misled them as to the nature of the Report.
I make no accusation, but I am bound to say that on the following Thursday there seemed to be no eagerness for this Debate on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press. On the next following Thursday there were no signs of it either, and that is when I got myself into trouble by indicating that I sympathised with my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) in fearing that the Opposition was rather retiring from the field. The net consequence is, I regret to say, that we shall be sitting on Saturday this week, which is all right by me; I shall be there.
It was an example of what, after all, is His Majesty's Opposition—of what was once a great political party—being completely misled by certain popular organs of the Press as to what the Report of the Royal Commission said. I would urge the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington in future to say to himself, "If it is reported in a Tory newspaper, it may not be so," and then he will not get so lively in walking into battle and he will not find it so embarrassing in trying to get out of the battle into which he has walked. The consequence was that some comments have been made about this matter. The "Economist," which is often quoted by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, said on 2nd July, 1949:This week's headlines saying that the British Press is vindicated, therefore fall below the standard of accuracy that the Commission enjoins.I almost thought we ought to have another Royal Commission to look into 2687 the way that the Report of the first Royal Commission had been received by some of the newspapers of the country.
§ Mr. Morrison
Let us consider the circumstances which led to the establishment of the Royal Commission—what, in fact, led to the Commission. Why was it set up? At Easter, 1946, the annual delegate meeting of the National Union of Journalists passed a resolution strongly urging the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Press of Great Britain. Subsequently, I received a deputation from the National Union of Journalists which asked for a thorough investigation into the structure, standards, and organisation of the British newspaper industry by a Royal Commission which would report on ways and means of safeguarding and enlarging the freedom of the Press. In replying to the deputation from the N.U.J., I said thatif such an inquiry should be instituted it would have as its object furthering and making wider and more genuine the freedom of the British Press.On 29th October, 1946, the House of Commons debated a Private Member's Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras which asked for the appointment of a Royal Commission and stated that one of the purposes of appointing the Royal Commission—indeed, the main purpose—was to further and ensure the freedom of the Press.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Will the Leader of the House tell us the date on which he received the deputation?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not sure. I have not got the date, but it can be taken that it would not have been very long after Easter, 1946—at any rate during that year.
§ Mr. Roberts
May I refresh the right hon. Gentleman's memory and suggest that it was not until July?
§ Mr. Morrison
Well, what does it matter? It may be so; I would not argue about it, and I cannot see the importance of the point anyway.
2688 At the end of the Debate on my hon. Friend's Motion, which I wound up on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I said that in the Government's view a case had been made out for an inquiry. I said: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.This Report having been received, my firm conviction is that it will assist the British Press in the directions which I indicated on that ocasion. I concluded by saying: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 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 558–60.]and so on. And, of course, we have from time to time an inquiry into the British Broadcasting Corporation, and there are no greater supporters of an inquiry into the British Broadcasting Corporation than the newspapers of the country and if I may say so with respect, I think they are right.
There was not a word about State control or interference. The theme throughout was the importance of a free Press, even to the extent of expressly instructing the Royal Commission that one of the objects of the inquiry was "furthering the free expression of opinion through the Press." It is being assumed that Labour men and women do nothing but abuse the newspaper Press. I have a great admiration for the Press as a whole. I have severe criticisms about parts of the Press. I am fond of the Press and of newspaper men, and I have done all I can, as a Member of the Government, to assist the Press in the discharge of their duties. [Laughter.] It is 2689 true, and nobody knows it better than the right hon. Member for Bournemouth. Indeed, I am a better help to the Press than he was as Minister of Information.
Anybody would think that no Conservative Leader had ever said a word against the newspapers. It is assumed that only the Socialists ever criticise some of the newspapers. One of the most brilliant criticisms of the Press was made by the former Conservative Leader, the late Lord Baldwin, when he was Mr. Baldwin and was Prime Minister. Speaking on 17th March, 1931, as reported in "The Times" of 18th March, 1931, at Queens Hall, Langham Place, at a very large meeting where they sang "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," he said, among other things, the following, which I have never gone quite as far as saying:The papers conducted by Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook are not newspapers in the ordinary acceptance of the term. (Cheers.) They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes of two men. (Loud cheers.)Later on he finished up with his famous phrase. He commented on certain personal observations that some of the newspapers had made against him, and he finished up by saying:What the proprietorship of these newspapers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.I am bound to say that reading those words in cold blood, I feel almost ashamed. I have never said anything as harsh as that against the newspapers, and I hope I never shall; I do not think I shall because, as I have said, I have an instinctive affection for journalists and for newspapers.
So much for past history. Let us ask ourselves whether the appointment of the Royal Commission and the nature of its Report has been justified by the results. First, has it, as is claimed in many quarters, vindicated the Press generally? Here I should like to give the House a few extracts from the Report which really knock over these claims about vindication which were made in so many organs of the Press. One extract is:Some of the spokesmen of the Press who gave evidence appeared to us unduly complacent and deficient in the practice of self-criticism.I have heard these words before. They are often used by gentlemen of the Press 2690 against Ministers of the Crown. It is curious that these words should be spoken of the newspapers themselves, or some of them. The Report continues:We have given reasons why in our opinion the newspapers, with few exceptions, fail to supply the electorate with adequate materials for sound political judgment.In paragraph 559 we find this:In the popular papers, consideration of news value acts as a distorting medium even apart from any political considerations: it attaches, as we have shown, supreme importance to the new, the exceptional, and the 'human,' and it emphasises these elements in the news to the detriment or even the exclusion of the normal and the continuing. Consequently the picture is always out of focus. The combination day after day of distortion due to these factors with the distortion arising from political partisanship has a cumulative effect upon the reader. It results, where it is carried farthest, not only in a debasement of standards of taste, but also in a further weakening of the foundations of intelligent judgment in public affairs. Political partisanship alone, as we have indicated, deprives the citizen of the evidence on which conclusions should be based: political partisanship in conjunction with a high degree of distortion for news value may lead him to forget that conclusions are, or should be, grounded on evidence.I have not quoted these conclusions with any vindictive feeling but in order that the balance of the picture shall be restored. I suggest that conclusions of that sort after a survey by this Commission do justify the appointment of the Commission. The Government certainly did not pack this Royal Commission with critics of the Press. I think everybody will agree with me that, if anything, we leaned over backwards to get an impartial Commission and, therefore, no charge of that sort can be made. This was a Commission of moderate-minded people, on the whole, I should have thought, who wished to be fair and objective in their consideration of the problem. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Government were in any way improper in the spirit in which they approached the selection of the members for the Royal Commission.
As I have said, the Report was published and there was a good deal of comment about it and a good deal of summarising in the newspapers. I am very glad that some of the newspapers did protest against the lack of objectivity and impartiality with which some other newspapers published summaries of the Royal Commission's Report and the 2691 headlines with which they were accompanied. The "Observer," which itself has been castigated by the Royal Commission on a particular point, said:That newspapers are capable of inaccurate reporting was nicely demonstrated last Thursday, when almost every popular newspaper summarised the findings of the Royal Commission on the Press in a manner favourable to themselves. No one who relied on these papers for his information could have guessed that much of the Commission's Report was unfavourable to our industry or profession. The Commission proves, with example after example, that personal and political bias often dictate the way in which an event is reported.The "Manchester Guardian" said:A large part of the Commission's report is extremely critical of the Press.These things were not manifested in headlines of the two newspapers to which reference has been made. I again express my sorrow and sympathy with the Opposition that they were so badly misled by their own friends in the Press on this matter.
But this was not all. It was not that only those two great newspapers, the "Observer" and the "Manchester Guardian" commented in that way. Later on a member of the Royal Commission itself, none other than Sir George Waters, who had signed a minority note at the end of the Commission's Report dissenting from the idea that laymen should be put on the proposed Press Council, but agreeing to the idea, came out with a few observations in a forthright manner which he addressed to the Institute of Journalists on 12th July. He said:I have been seriously disturbed by the selective treatment which the Commission's Report has received from the editorials of newspapers. I can assure you that the Commission never intended this to be a whitewashing report; nor is it. It has been hailed as a complete vindication of the Press, or, in any case, as a vindication. It is nothing of the kind. Those who say so cannot have read the Report or cannot have understood it. It is, in fact, severely critical of the performance of the Press; it is a vindication of the organisation, not the performance of the Press. I still feel that there is more in the Report than is good for the health of our profession or any profession. Some of my colleagues thought the Press very inefficient in the medium of self-criticism. … Yet the case against the general council, as stated in one newspaper after another, rests on the assertion that the Commission found little or nothing wrong with the Press. This unwillingness to face the facts, this wanton neglect of the plain 2692 conclusions of the Report, shows the Press, I am sorry to say, in a very poor light.That is Sir George Waters. Some papers are to be congratulated and, on the whole, those which have congratulated themselves more often than not are the ones which the Commission criticise most sharply.
I come to the Government view of the Report and the attitude which we think is right in respect of it and which we would commend to the favourable consideration of the House. The Government are prepared to accept the Report of the Royal Commission, in general. We regard it as a valuable document, and I think that the National Union of Journalists, representing a large part of a great profession, are to be congratulated on having taken the initiative in securing the appointment of the Royal Commission and that the House also is to be congratulated on the decision which it reached. On the whole, we think that the Report of the Royal Commission is balanced and sound. It is a pity that some of the newspapers have emphasised the compliments which the Commission paid to the Press and made too little of the criticisms. They will be chiefly to blame if there should be a tendency in this Debate to redress the balance.
I am anxious to give justice where justice is due and, personally, I am only too glad to acknowledge the broad justice of the Commission's tributes to the British Press. It is, perhaps, rather rhetorical to say that it is generally agreed that the British Press is inferior to none in the world, but I agree that, as a whole, it is equal to any of which I have personal knowledge. We can be proud of the absence of bribery and of what the Commission describe as "its other negative virtues." We can be proud of the amazing technical achievement of the British Press, the high level of efficiency in production and distribution which has been attained and the cheapness and reliability—or rather, readability—of the popular newspapers, in particular.
We are fortunate in our so-called quality newspapers and periodicals of which, at least, it can be said, in the Commission's words—page 150:A mass of material upon which considered judgment on crucial problems, national and international, can be built up will be found in their pages.2693 At the same time, the general observations of the Commission are much more generous than perhaps is justified by the sharpness of its particular criticisms of certain sections of the Press on some major points—political bias in presenting news, lapses of taste, sensationalism, inexcusable inaccuracies and errors of emphasis. But it is not my intention to bring out all the criticisms of the Report. The Press itself has, however, made it necessary to show—or rather some sections of the Press have made it necessary to show—that the Commission did not find that newspapers and their owners were angels and, indeed, that the Commission recommended steps to help them a little nearer to the angels.
What, too, of the finding that the weaknesses of the Press are, in part at least the weaknesses of the public? Does not past experience show that, under pressure of competition, the newspapers tend to lower their standards? And is there not a risk, when newsprint becomes more plentiful and much larger newspapers return into circulation, that these dangers and tendencies may be re-created in those circumstances, which may yet come, and that history may repeat itself? I hope that is not to be the case.
These problems of the Press, which the Commission handles very sympathetically—and to a considerable extent it explains how and why these difficulties occur—have led the Royal Commission to propose the establishment of a General Council of the Press. In some organs of opinion and in some newspapers—in fact, many of them—this proposal has been condemned, I think, out of hand, with perhaps insufficient thought and reflection.
The whole theme running through the evidence before the Royal Commission on the part of a good deal of the Press was that, "The public can buy our newspapers or do not need to buy them. We can take care of ourselves. There is no need for anybody to watch and look at the newspapers and to see whether criticisms ought to be made." That is what the Royal Commission refers to as an undue degree of complacency. Repeatedly, members of the Royal Commission put the point: "You newspaper men criticise public men, criticise various citizens, criticise various evils, and the question is, Who is to criticise the Press?" The newspaper men tended to answer, "We 2694 will take care of that; there is no need for any particular body to look after criticisms of the Press." There is an assumption that the Press is the one public institution which must be left by itself to take its own line, to develop its own standards, without any responsible criticism or without any sense that somebody is about who is capable of engaging in what we hope would be fair-minded criticism and adjudication. That is their assumption—that the business of the newspapers is the business of the newspapers and of nobody else.
As against that, I will quote the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). I think I have his words of wisdom here. He was speaking in the House on 16th July, 1946, and, curiously enough, we were debating the B.B.C. I am afraid both he and I began talking about newspapers because we both find it a very fascinating subject. I forget what were the stimulating circumstances. However, he said:I aver that the right hon. Gentleman"—by which he meant me—quite unnecessarily brought up this topic of the Press. He said the Government accepted the desire of his hon. Friends that there should be an inquiry into the state of the Press. I believe"—which means that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth believes—that the state of the Press is thoroughly well known. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I believe also that the right hon. Gentleman has no respect whatsoever for the freedom of the Press"—that is a slander—or for the freedom of any one who ventures to criticise the Government or his august self.That is a worse slander. Then he said, and I agree with him in this—except for the last words—very much:Freedom of the Press, let me remind the Lord President, is a right of the public and not a right of the Press, and the public will have something to say about the Lord President's threats to the Press today.Whereupon it is recorded that the Chairman—Major Milner—said:This Debate is concerned not with the Press but with broadcasting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1946: Vol. 425, c. 1098.]I could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman more. This is a matter which concerns the public and not only the newspapers. For myself, I regard the Press as a great institution which, in my 2695 judgment, plays, unofficially but nevertheless effectively, an essential part in the workings of the British Constitution. We have King and Lords and Commons; and we have our Debates; and the House has the freedom to attack and criticise the Government of the day; and I believe the newspapers also make their contribution to the working of the British Constitution. The knowedge that any day they may drop on the Government, fairly or unfairly, and knock them about, is a good thing for Ministers to know; and there are times when newspaper criticisms and suggestions have been most valuable as correctives of Government policy and administration. Personally, I have learned a good many things from paragraphs in the Press, which drew my attention to things which otherwise would not have come to my notice.
This proposal for a General Council is a proposal that there should be a body which would watch the Press, which would comment upon standards in the Press, which would encourage good standards of journalism and of reporting and of presentation; a body to which complaints could be sent; and a body which also could represent the rights of the Press to the Government and international organisations, and so on. In our judgment the recommendation of the Royal Commission is right. It is proposed that as to four-fifths of the membership, roughly, it should be composed of newspaper men of one sort and another, but as to about 20 per cent., including the chairman, it should be composed of outside people—fair minded, good citizens. It is proposed that they should be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord President of the Court of Session.
The Commission is unanimous about the establishment of the General Council. It is not quite unanimous about the inclusion of laymen from outside. We think it is right that laymen should be included, and that that balance of suggested appointments is roughly correct. The Government cannot, of course, say whether the Lord Chief Justice would be willing to undertake the responsibility or the Lord President of the Court of Session. That would be for them to decide, if and when the Press puts the matter to them. No doubt, 2696 it may in part depend upon the final state of the scheme.
As far as the Government are concerned, we endorse the majority recommendation in this respect, including the proposal for a lay chairman and about 20 per cent. of laymen. We think it is important that the Council should be a really effective body. We believe it can be of assistance to the Press, and not a nuisance to newspapermen, and would in no way interfere with their freedom. In the main it would be appointed by the Press itself, and the proposal is that the Press should voluntarily take this action. The Government hope that the Press will do this, as recommended by the Royal Commission.
We think that is the best thing that could happen, and that it is far better that the Press should do this piece of work itself in the manner which is suggested. If it should turn out—though I hope it will not be the case—that the Press should not be willing to take steps for the appointment of such a General Council the Government and Parliament would have to consider the situation which would thereby be created. It is for the House today to express its view whether it would wish the Press to take this action. I feel reasonably confident that if the House of Commons so expressed itself, it is likely that the Press will set up the General Council in the form recommended by the Royal Commission or, at any rate, roughly in that form.
There were some other specific proposals. We endorse the recommendation—which, I think, was, indeed, generally welcomed in newspaper land itself—that the present agreement to refrain from non-journalistic means of competition should be prolonged indefinitely; that is to say, the cessation of the use of what were called "adventitious aids to circulation," when free gifts were given, and so on. I think that the whole of newspaper land is against it. I do not think there is any danger of its resumption, but we endorse the view of the Royal Commission.
We endorse the hope of the Royal Commission that the large newspaper chains will grow no larger. That view is expressed in paragraph 672. On the relatively minor points regarding legislation, dealt with in paragraph 684, the 2697 Government would not be prepared to commit themselves finally, and the proposals will have to be further considered in detail; but in general they would be sympathetically disposed to legislation at a convenient opportunity.
There were some references in the Report of the Royal Commission to the Government information services, as to which the Commission sought evidence. It was given from official channels, and the services were criticised by various witnesses outside the Government information services. The Commission devotes a section to this matter. It reached the conclusion that the evidence does not suggest… that up to now any harmful influence is being exerted on the Press through the medium of the Government information services; but if newspapers get out of the habit of finding their own news and into the habit of taking all or most of it unquestioningly from a Government department they are obviously in some danger of falling into totalitarian paths. Future developments therefore need to be carefully watched.The Royal Commission also suggested in paragraph 654 that the proper relationship between the Press and Government information officers was one of the matters the General Council might take up on behalf of the Press. The Government accept the Commission's general comments on this matter, and it is noteworthy that the Commission seemed to have been afraid of totalitarian tendencies as a result of lack of energy or want of enterprise on the part of the newspapers and not through any fault of the information services.
Personally, I do not think there is much danger of any such totalitarian tendency, either through the one fault or the other. The British have too much individualism in them to be easy victims of totalitarian tendencies, and any tendency to totalitarianism this Government would be the first to resist. Indeed, one of the dangers of capitalism, which was strongly supported by the Conservative Party through the development of monopolies and cartels, was a tendency to totalitarianism, which we have checked by transferring some of them from private monopoly into public ownership. Therefore, we are the strongest opponents of totalitarianism—though the Conservatives are not bad, even if they are a little bit under suspicion in that respect. There is nothing—and the Report 2698 does not suggest otherwise—in the existence of the information services which can prevent the Press from developing alternative sources of information and news.
The Royal Commission naturally emphasises the desirability of additional supplies of newsprint as soon as the economic position allows, and particularly expresses the hope that consideration will be given, as supplies increase, to the possibility of lifting the present restrictions on use of newsprint for new papers. The Government are anxious to do everything practicable in both respects when the circumstances permit. As and when newsprint becomes freely available again, the testing time for the British Press will really come.
We agree with the Royal Commission that, on the whole, the British Press is inferior to none in the world, and some sections of it can be proud of the standards they maintain. Indeed, the most serious criticisms apply only to a limited part of the Press, though a very important part in terms of circulation. The Royal Commission has, we submit, however, shown that standards in some important respects are low, even deplorably low> and that some dangerous tendencies exist, which the Report of the Royal Commission may serve to arrest. We think that the General Council, if it realises the hopes of the Commission, should be able to raise the standards both of the newspaper industry and of the journalistic profession. We feel that the case for an inquiry of this kind from time to time has been vindicated. It has been accepted in principle for the B.B.C., which, quite rightly, is subjected to independent inquiry from time to time.
§ Mr. Morrison
I of course understand that it is a monopoly. Nevertheless, the Press is of very great importance to the public, as the right hon. Gentleman has himself said. There is a great deal to be said for a periodical investigation in good will, though if the General Council of the Press is established and becomes a success it may not be necessary to have a periodical Royal Commission. I agree that the B.B.C. is a monopoly. But it is a public monopoly; there is that to be said about it and for it. Nevertheless, I fully agree that it is right that 2699 periodically there should be an independent investigation into the affairs of the B.B.C.
After all, the Press is unique in being a great institution, vital to our democracy, which has virtual freedom from public criticism, certainly of the newspapers which are read by most of the people. Their treatment of the Report shows their capacity to suppress or play down criticisms of themselves. Well, we think that the Royal Commission was a venture which it was wise for the House of Commons to get going and to encourage the Government to appoint. We think its Report is a report of the greatest value. I think it is a classic in the way of a survey and investigation into the British newspaper Press. I think it is exceedingly useful, and I would urge sincerely, with respect, and I hope in all friendliness, upon all those who carry responsibility in newspaper land that they should give the Report sympathetic consideration.
I earnestly hope that, in the interests of journalism itself those concerned in the world of newspapers will voluntarily proceed to act in accordance with the spirit of the Report of the Royal Commission, for I agree entirely that the best thing that could happen is for newspaper land itself to take the matter in hand rather than that Parliament or Government should have to take any steps in the matter at all. I commend this Motion to the consideration of the House.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
I should like to begin by associating myself and my hon. and right hon. Friends with the tributes that the Lord President of the Council has paid to the work of this Commission. I agree with him. I think that the Report is not only a painstaking but also a very readable document. The Lord President described it as "a classic survey." The differences in the party opposite are made obvious when we find that in "Tribune" his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) described it as "a tepid and unimaginative document."
The Lord President twitted the Opposition with what he alleged was our reluctance to have this Debate. Let me reassure him that certainly on my part there was no reluctance whatsoever. I 2700 have looked forward to it with anticipation of enjoyment, particularly, of course, to the part that I am going to play. I may say that the right hon. Gentleman's speech has in no way decreased that anticipation. It is quite true that we did consider whether it would not be the right thing to postpone our enjoyment because of what we understood were the wishes of the Government and what would have been to the convenience of the House. However, we understood from the statements of the Lord President that, after all, the Government did not want us to do that, and we therefore gladly welcome this occasion.
I naturally, in order to inform myself on this matter, turned to the OFFICIAL REPORT of our last Debate on this subject, and the first thing that struck me was that it was rather like a house party of the Oxford Group, because every Member started by confessing his particular connection with the Press. Well, it will not take me long to confess my connection. I have been asked at intervals—long intervals—to write articles for various journals. But let no one suspect that that means any tie-up with any section of the Press, because investigation shows that I have never been asked twice by the same paper. Personally, I regard that as a reflection on the judgment and culture of the editorial staffs of the various newspapers, but I did not think it sufficiently serious to refer it to the Royal Commission.
I noticed, as I expected I should, a very distinct change in the tone of the right hon. Gentleman. He was very much mellower, very much more friendly to those sections of the Press that he had been previously attacking, and I thought that somehow or another the hatchet had been buried, because not so very long ago, one Sunday morning when I was getting out of a train, I bought the "Sunday Times," which has at the head of it "A Kemsley Newspaper," and there facing me on the front page was a large photograph which, even without my reading spectacles, I could be certain was one of two things: it was either the Lord President imitating Napoleon or it was Napoleon imitating the Lord President. Well, I assumed that the first was right; and it was, because when I was able to read the letterpress underneath, I found 2701 that, although part of it was unintelligible, all of it was laudatory. I hope that that is an example which is going to be followed elsewhere. I hope that before long I shall see my own photograph on the front page of the "Daily Herald," with under it perhaps a few laudatory remarks from the honeyed pen of the hon. Member for Devonport.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted a great deal of his time to complaining of the reception by part of the Press of the Royal Commission's Report. He complained that they had spoken of it as a vindication; that they had referred to it as an attack that had failed. I think that in order to judge the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's criticism, to judge whether, in fact, the Press were justified in using terms such as that, we must give some consideration to the circumstances under which this Royal Commission was set up. We on this side do not believe that it was, in fact, a nice objective approach—such as the right hon. Gentleman tells us takes place periodically in the case of the B.B.C.—as a result of a general disquiet about matters in the Press and a general desire on the part of everybody to have these matters, without any party bias, improved if it were possible. We do not believe that at all. We think that this was an almost naked, certainly ill-conceived, party political attack, not upon the Press as a whole but upon that section of the Press which opposes hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was an attempt to damage papers whose criticism was resented and whose influence might be feared.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a short résumé of the events which led to the setting up of the Royal Commission, and they are important. I should like slightly to fill up some of the gaps left by the right hon. Gentleman. He told us first of all about the resolution passed by the National Union of Journalists, and the first important feature he forgot to tell us about was that it was followed immediately by a refusal on the part of the Prime Minister to take any action upon it—so like the Prime Minister; he does have these honest aberrations which must be so trying for the Party bosses around him.
§ Mr. Stanley
That is worthy of every contribution the hon. Member makes in these discussions. Somehow or other the right hon. Gentleman, if he was to set up this Press Commission, had to show some circumstances which had changed so much as to make the refusal of the Prime Minister at one stage turn into acceptance at a later stage. It could not come too quickly; that might have looked as if the Government did not know their own mind—but that was three years ago.
We had the rest of the process described to us in some detail by the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke in our last Debate. There was first of all the visit by a deputation from the National Union of Journalists, men he described, I am sure rightly, as earnest, anxious and sincere men. They came to see the Lord President of the Council to put before him the case for having a Royal Commission, and the Lord President of the Council—these are his own words—said: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 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 any conclusion about it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 551.]It sounded a detailed, orderly statement as to the progress of the education of the Lord President of the Council; detailed and orderly, but was it accurate? The Lord President said he received the deputation and that because of that he made his statement during the broadcasting Debate. My information is exactly to the contrary. My information is that the broadcasting Debate took place on 16th June and, according to the columns of "The Times," it was not until 22nd June that the right hon. Gentleman received this deputation.
§ Mr. Morrison
When did I say this? As the right hon. Gentleman has got on to a point of some importance, will he say when I made this statement about dates and the sequence of events?
§ Mr. Stanley
It comes from HANSARD—it was because of the deputation that 2703 the right hon. Gentleman made his statement in the broadcasting Debate. The HANSARD is of Tuesday, 29th October, 1946.
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot carry all these dates in my mind. I have not got them with me, and there is no reason why I should. But there were some other stages in these discussions. One was, if I recall rightly, that the National Union of Journalists sent a reasoned memorandum. But, in any case, I see no importance in the point.
§ Mr. Stanley
The right hon. Gentleman sees no importance in it, but I wonder if he would have said the same if a journalist had done it. Is there really no importance in the Lord President of the Council coming down to this House and telling us that he was persuaded to make a certain statement because of a deputation he had received before, if afterwards we find that he made his statement first and received the deputation afterwards? I call that a matter of very considerable importance.
§ Mr. Stanley
Surely the right hon. Gentleman has looked it up already because this point was raised during the Debate two years ago. He was challenged then whether he had not given an inaccurate statement to the House, but he said then, as he said today, that he could not charge his memory with dates.
§ Mr. Stanley
Well, we went through the formula set for us of having what was to be a perfectly free Debate. It was to be an occasion when no Whips were to be put on and no Government decision was to be taken. It was only after listening to this Debate that the Lord President of the Council was to make up his mind. It was a beautiful picture seeing the Lord President of the Council sitting there watching and weighing up, now being swayed one way by an hon. Member opposite and now being swayed the other way by a speech from this side. It 2704 was beautifully summed up by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker), who said of the Lord President:As everyone knows, he is sitting here impartially, listening to this Debate to make up his mind according to the way it goes."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October; Vol. 428, c. 485.]No wonder such a simple faith proved an immediate passport to the Government Front Bench, which the hon. Member for Smethwick now adorns as Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
Anyhow, somewhere about half way through the Debate the right hon. Gentleman did make up his mind. He announced that he was in favour of the setting up of the Royal Commission and, as I understand from the "Sunday Times," that those whom he affectionately calls "the boys" would be safe in following him. On looking through that Debate, I found one comment which I think was the most prophetic of all. A Member said that it seemed to him that this inquiry was unnecessary, might be injurious, and he thought it would be very likely futile. That was the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is on the Front Bench too."] No doubt from that they thought he was a good prophet, but it is the last time he made any accurate prophecy.
Can anyone really be in any doubt that this was a party political manoeuvre, and that the whole of this Debate was arranged, and this Royal Commission was set up, in the hope that from it would emerge something damaging to the right-wing Press? If we were in any doubt about it at the time, surely, in the light of subsequent events, now we can be in no doubt about it at all. The whole emphasis during that Debate was upon the National Union of Journalists. It was they who desired this inquiry; it was they who were going to give evidence on which it was to be based; it was they who were anxious to defend the general standards of the Press as a whole. I cannot refrain from reading what I regard as an almost unparalleled stricture made by any Commission—the stricture of this Royal Commission on the evidence given by the National Union of Journalists:The Memorandum submitted to us by the Union was not a survey of the Press as a whole, but rather an attack on the right wing portion of it. In the light of what follows 2705 in this chapter, the fact that the "Daily Worker" and the "Daily Mirror" were the only national daily papers not characterised by name, while the "Daily Herald" was scarcely mentioned, is some indication of the selective nature of the document. The Memorandum gave us no coherent and comprehensive picture and no means of reaching general conclusions about the extent and character of the abuses which had been said to exist.These are the people on whom we were going to rely, whose views made this Royal Commission essential. That was the evidence which, when their chance came, they chose to give the Commission. Whatever stricture the right hon. Gentleman makes upon the Press for the reception of the Royal Commission's Report and for the claim that they have been vindicated, if we take into account the circumstances and the results of the partisan attack which was made upon them, then they were to that extent vindicated and justified in the pleasure with which they received the Report.
I want to deal in more detail with the charges against them and the answer which the Royal Commission gave, but I will, if I may, now refer to the speech made in our last Debate on the Press by the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies). I thought at the time, and reading HANSARD again I still think so, that it was the best speech made from the benches opposite on this question. It was not only extremely witty, but it tried to put in concrete form the catalogue of the complaints which he was making against the Press and what he wanted the Royal Commission to investigate. But before I turn to those detailed matters, may I just refer to one general statement made by a Member of the House who did not speak in that Debate and who did not think it necessary to give evidence? He did, however, make a pronouncement on the Press. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, who described it as the most prostituted Press in the world.
§ Mr. Stanley
A slightly prim alternative for the ruder and rougher words used by Mr. Baldwin. The Minister of Health's description went out all over the world, to places where the right hon. Gentleman is not as well know as he is here, and there may have been many people who did not recognise it as one of his usual pieces of political buffoonery. 2706 The Press cannot be blamed when things like that are said about them and the Commission report, and it is generally agreed, that the Press is inferior to none in the world, for regarding their finding as a vindication.
I shall try to summarise the points made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West St. Pancras. The four main points he wanted the inquiry to go into were: First, details of ownership and control; second, the monopolistic character which was being effected by the increase in chain newspapers; third, the influence of advertising on the presentation of news; fourth, the distortion and suppression of news for political motives. I think that is a fair summary of the points which the hon. Gentleman wished to be considered. There is one curious omission from the list, however, to which I shall refer later.
Let me take the four points one by one. First of all, investigation of ownership and control. I think everyone, even those who dislike the findings of the Commission, will admit that the Commission made a very careful and exhaustive study of the financial provision of the various newspapers and newspaper companies. They have set out in great detail where the control lies and what are the holdings. They have said what is true, that there is no mystery connected with it and that it could have been found out by anyone on application to Somerset House. They have done all of us a useful service by setting out, in compendious form, the results of their investigations. I think we are all agreed that those investigations show that there is no hidden finance in the British newspaper world, no mysterious influence behind the scenes which by financial control might influence the policies and bearing of those newspapers. So much for the first point.
The second point was much more serious—the allegation that in some sections and places the Press was approaching a monopoly due to the large growth in the series of newspaper chains. In that connection, if hon. Members will look again at our last Debate, they will see that the name of Lord Kemsley was frequently, perhaps over-frequently, mentioned. A perfectly genuine fear which I think all of us would share was voiced by the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras—that this monopoly, this increase 2707 of the chain, might reach a point where the public could not really get anything but a particular brand of political opinion shoved down their throats whether they wanted it or not, and in particular, that because of their deliberate action many of the independent newspapers we used to know and appreciate were being forced out of life.
That was a genuine cause of anxiety and one which certainly deserved investigation. But the assertion that this process had already gone so far that monopoly existed, and that the chains were deliberately driving independent newspapers out of existence—wild claims of that kind—have been wholly disproved by the result of the Commission's findings. If Members will look at paragraph 199 which opens the chapter dealing with the growth of the chains, they will find a most delicate rebuke to the Government who, in their terms of reference, without waiting for evidence to be heard, had inserted this allegation of monopolistic control. This is what the Royal Commission said:We have found it convenient to think of this part of our inquiry in terms of concentration of ownership. There is nothing approaching monopoly in the Press today.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go on with that subject a little further, because I am sure he agrees that the Commission also established the existence of local monopolies at any rate, and recommended their reference to the Monopolies Commission.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am only dealing at the moment with the rebuke given by the Commission to the Government for having deliberately inserted the word "monopolistic" into their terms of reference.
I now pass to the paragraphs which, as hon. Members know, come very much later and deal with the Commission's finding on this matter. They are set out at considerable length in paragraphs 344, 345 and 346. They are very long and I cannot quote them all, but hon. Members, no doubt, will quote any part which appeals to them. However, there are several statements which the House ought to note. The first is this:We have reached the conclusion that the case against chains has been overstated. This is especially so of the predatory habits which 2708 we were invited to condemn. The chains have not habitually invaded provincial towns and crushed independent competitors out of existence.It goes on to give certain instances, I think seven, in which independent newspapers had gone out of existence, and it was found that in only two cases was that due to the competition between those newspapers and a chain newspaper. It ends up by saying:The lesson has apparently been learned"—because the Commission were dealing with losses by chains through internecine war—and with the exception of two papers whose lack of success could be attributed to other causes, no independent daily competing with a chain daily has ceased publication since 1932.On the other side of the account, chains have undoubtedly preserved and for a time run at a loss papers which otherwise would presumably have ceased publication. … In fact, however, chain ownership does not necessarily produce uniformity or even similarity in the papers.… We were impressed by the importance which the chains attached to maintaining the local tradition of their papers and by the degree of practical independence, particularly in local affairs, which the chain editors who gave evidence appeared to enjoy.Finally, in paragraph 604 they deal with the proposed measures to break up chains or restrict their growth, pleas for which had been made during the Debate in this House. The report says:Proposals were put before us for legislation to break up the existing chains or to prevent their growth beyond a given size. Since we do not consider that chain ownership is undesirable in itself, or that concentration of ownership is at present so great as to be contrary to the best interests of the public, we do not recommend measures to break up existing concentrations.When hon. Members think of some of the accusations that were made and the things that were said about chains and about Lord Kemsley in particular, can Lord Kemsley be blamed for regarding these passages as showing the failure of the attack?
§ Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to suggest that all is right with the chains. If it were why should the Commission at the end of paragraph 350 say:… we should deplore any tendency on the part of the larger chains to expand, particularly by the acquisition of further papers in areas where they are already strong"?If everything is all right with the chains why put that in?
§ Mr. Stanley
Surely the Commission means that that does not exist at present. What the Commission says is that that point has not been reached. In fact, no damage has been done. Let me read it again:Since we do not consider that chain ownership is undesirable in itself, or that concentration of ownership is at present so great as to be contrary to the best interests of the public, we do not recommend measures to break up existing concentrations.That is not what hon. Members opposite were saying in the Debate. They were saying that it had gone too far already. What the Commission say is that no damage has occurred, and what they are referring to is something that might happen in the future. During the Debate hon. Members opposite were attacking existing chains, and that is the attack which paragraph 604 refutes completely.
I pass on to the third point, the influence of advertising on the Press. This was a matter in which I think the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) took a particular interest and speeches were made on the same subject by other hon. Members. It was represented that it was a well-known fact that advertisers exercised their influence in regard to the presentation of news and views. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) said that he did not know of any such practice, the hon. Member went so far as to say: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428 c. 540.]A strange desire, but if there is to be any romping with the foliage it seems that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, in view of the Royal Commission's Report, has the right to do it, because these allegations were put before the Royal Commission and they were uncompromisingly rejected.
If hon. Members look at paragraph 527 they will see there these words:We have some evidence that individual advertisers occasionally seek to influence the policy of a newspaper or to obtain the omission or insertion of particular news items. Any attempt by an advertiser to exploit his 2710 position in this way is to be condemned, and we are glad to record that such attempts appear to be infrequent and unsuccessful.Indeed, the whole tenor of the preceding remarks show that they regard this charge of the influence of advertisers upon the presentation of news as being wholly unfounded.
I now come to the fourth of the hon. Member's charges, the distortion or suppression of news, and I am sure that all of us would condemn such instances, whether they occurred in the Press which is favourable to us or in that section which is favourable to our opponents. No one could possibly say—and I shall deal with this later—anything in defence of instances of that kind, and I am going to say frankly at once that here on the fourth of the four points with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, the Press does not emerge as scatheless as it does from the other three points with which I have already dealt. Even then it is right to put this matter in its proper perspective, and if hon. Members will look at paragraph 394 they will see these words:When allowance for these differences has been made, the research and evidence show, in our opinion, first that the political factor in the selection and presentation of news is apparent in all the national papers, and second that it can often be accounted for by legitimate differences of opinion on news value.Finally:Within these limits, political bias operates neither constantly nor consistently, whether as between different papers or as between different issues of the same paper; and occasionally effects which appear at first sight to spring from undue bias are found on examination to be equally attributable to other causes.It is only right to put the matter in its true perspective, that this is not a deliberate and continuing attempt to commit these professional misdemeanours, but is something which does occur though it is not a matter of continued habit.
I also want to stress another point. In this paragraph, the Commission say:It is apparent in all the national papers.It is a question of the national Press as a whole, and not a question, as many hon. Members have tried to make it, of a political division of the Press. It is not true, as is sometimes put forward, that all the goats are on one side and all the sheep are on the other; all the papers of the Left are Sir Galahads in shining armour riding in quest of the 2711 truth while all the papers on our side are just shabby scoundrels. The condemnation under this fourth heading falls alike on the national papers as a whole, Left and Right, Tory and Socialist.
§ Mr. Stanley
Certainly, the popular Press. I leave out the quality Press. Instances are given here, some from Conservative and some from Labour journals. Indeed, the process still goes on. I do not know whether hon. Members noticed a very curious omission only the other day. They will remember, I expect, as it is not very long ago, a little incident which took place on 20th July, when Lord Ammon, who had had a little difference with the Government the day before, made a statement in which he said that the Government had gone crazy. That was on the morning of the 20th. I should have thought that was of considerable news value. It is unusual for a Chief Whip to say things like that, whatever he may think. I am sure the Patronage Secretary will agree with me. It was not unimportant. It vas important enough to ensure Lord Ammon the sack within 24 hours. Yet, if we look at the issue of the "Daily Herald" for 21st July, we shall not find any reference whatsoever to the statement by Lord Ammon.
Is not that a clear case of suppression of an item of news value which might be inconvenient to the political opinions held? Of course, I know perfectly well that kindly people are going round putting a more charitable explanation on it. They are saying that the editorial staff of the "Daily Herald" are so much in touch with Members of the Government that they did not realise the news value of that statement. I do not think that we can accept that as an explanation. We must regard it as a more obvious case of the suppression of news because of political bias. So I say that when we are condemning the national Press for this kind of action let us not be hypocrites and pretend that the fault lies with only one section of the Press, that section which we on this side happen to support.
What can we do about it? I do not want to make the Press non-partisan. It would be hideously dull if every newspaper had to preserve an attitude of complete 2712 impartiality, had to sit on the fence all the time; had, in fact, to model the whole of its issue on the leading article of "The Times." I do not think that that really corresponds to a public demand. We are naturally combative. We like taking sides. I do not think there is any harm at all in a newspaper definitely and to our knowledge taking a side and allowing people who like that view to buy the newspaper that gives it, while others take some other newspapers that give views more favourable to them.
I do not believe that it is really impossible to combine the two things, being partisan and being fair. I do not think we can go to the length of always setting out scrupulously at the same length both sides of the question, awl without any indication of one's own view, and saying that there is nothing between that position and never giving the other fellow a show at all. I say let the newspaper be partisan, but let it give the reader enough liberty to disagree with its conclusions if he wants to.
We set a pretty good example in this House. We are partisan and I hope that we shall remain partisan. The strength and vitality of this House depends on our being partisan. We do not think it necessary when we get up to speak to put the whole of the other fellow's case before we begin to put our own, but we note when any hon. Member, in stating a partisan case, is stating that case unfairly. It might not be a matter of Order or anything that we can take action against, but we note that hon. Member down for future reference next time he gets up to speak.
Let us realise that we are asking the Press to adopt even higher standards than we have to adopt ourselves. There is no need whatsoever for the Lord President of the Council to bring forward in his speech any of the points which are unfavourable to his case. He relies upon me to do it. I hope he does not think that I have let him down in any way. That sort of thing cannot be done in a newspaper. It is not enough to say that the other fellow can go and buy another newspaper and read the opposite point of view. We really cannot expect that to happen with the vast majority of the people. Somehow or other the Press has to be less partisan than we think ourselves justified in being in this House.
2713 I do not see why, even now, it cannot do it.
The best help that this House can give is to say two things tonight with great clarity. The first thing is that the party which is supported by a newspaper which happens to be guilty of one of those suppressions does not like it and does not want it. We do not want that kind of thing, even if it is supposed to be serving our own advantage. In the first place, we do not think that it does serve our own advantage and, secondly, if it did, we should not think it the right way to do it. We have sufficient confidence in our own points of view to be ready to have them submitted to the public, and finally to the electorate, without any distortions of that kind. Secondly, I do not believe that the public like it. They do not like being fooled. They may like a good scrapping speech or article. They may like their papers to be partisan, but they do not like being fooled with suppression of news. If the public whom it is supposed to please do not like it, who does like it? Is there anything to lose by remedying it?
That leads me on to what is a much more difficult and greater defect in the Press today. It is the curious omission in the points raised by the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras. It is true that there are no politics in this point, and perhaps that is why he left it out, but to me it is a far more serious allegation against the Press than those with which we have dealt up to now. It is the allegation dealt with in the Commission's Report, paragraphs 481 to 496, of triviality and sensationalism. There is no politics in that and there is no division in the popular Press on political lines.
Yet there cannot be anyone here who has not from time to time been revolted by some of the stuff that has been put out for the public in the public Press. I recognise that to some extent it is unfair to blame the Press. To some extent one has to blame the public, and if one blames the public, one has to blame to some extent people like my predecessors and myself and all hon. Members of this House who have been here some time and have not been able yet to build up an educational system to raise the public taste above the stuff which is now being provided for the public.
2714 I quite see that we cannot expect the editor or proprietor with tremendous responsibility on him—not just a few thousand pounds of his own money but a tremendous organisation with tremendous capital investment, great sums of money belonging to the shareholders, and large numbers of people employed by him—to go so far beyond what he believes to be public taste as to jeopardise the security of all that estate. I do not think it is fair that we should ask any of them to do that.
However, are we quite certain and are they quite certain—could they not, perhaps, find out?—that they are not now a little behind public taste. That public taste, as is evidenced in many ways, may have begun over the last few years, particularly the years since the beginning of the war, to change and expand, perhaps still slowly but nevertheless perceptibly. Might it not be a fact that in some cases now the Press is actually encouraging feelings which might otherwise have subsided?
Here again, what can the House of Commons do about it? I am afraid that I do not think there is very much. I do not think this sort of thing is susceptible to legislation, except very rarely. We had one instance in the old days when we banned the publication of details of divorce cases. I think that was very wise, and it proved a very successful action, but it was under particular circumstances and it is not easy to find anything quite like it.
§ Mr. Stanley
No, Sir. I was about to say that I thought that to extend that to criminal cases—I speak as no expert, but merely as a layman—would land us on very dangerous ground indeed. If we were to lay down by statute the exclusion of evidence given in criminal cases we should appear to take away from the general range of accused people one of their greatest safeguards; that is, that the public as a whole should be cognisant—even if they do not themselves go to the courts and listen to how justice is conducted—of what happens by being told by the Press so that they may judge, as a jury themselves, whether our judicial system is fair and right.
2715 I would certainly regard an extension of what occurs in the case of divorce, into the range of criminal cases as being extremely dangerous. We have occasional instances. I remember one or two where the House has been able to ventilate particularly bad cases, but mainly I believe we have to make up our minds that if we are to put these things right, and everybody wants them to be put right, they will be put right not by us legislators in the House of Commons but by the Press and by the public.
That brings me to the point about the proposed Press Council. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the other proposals of the Royal Commission, but I shall not deal with them because they are not very important in character. I think it can be said that the Opposition agree with them all, and that they will have whatever support is needed. I want to refer only to the Press Council. It is true that the Press Council is recommended by the Royal Commission on a variety of grounds. I shall not this afternoon deal with the other grounds; I want just to deal with it from the point of view that I am now discussing, because the Royal Commission thought that the Press Council could be of some help in raising the standard of the Press in two respects—the fair presentation of the news and abstention from sensationalism. That is the main interest of the Press Council to me.
I do not pretend to know whether that will succeed—I do not know enough about the organisation of the Press—but I am certain that it cannot succeed without the wholehearted co-operation of the Press. Unless the Press come into the Press Council meaning to play and believing that some use can be made of it, then whether we set it up or not does not really matter because it will be just a façade. That is why I do not take very seriously the right hon. Gentleman's closing remarks which presaged quite fairly the possibility of a statutory body if no voluntary body was set up. Frankly, I do not believe that a statutory body set up in defiance of the wishes of the Press and against the wishes of the Press would have any chance of success. Therefore, as the success of the Council depends on Press co-operation, it is for the Press to 2716 decide, and I am content to leave it with them to decide.
However, I hope that in coming to their decision they will have this in mind. I have tried to show—and I believe—that the grosser partisan attacks made upon certain sections of the Press have been defeated by the Report of the Royal Commission, but that does not mean that even people like myself, who believe in that defeat and who rejoice at it, think that all is for the best in the best of all possible Presses. We also feel that there are things to be put right, and I hope that if the Press for some reason or another decide that a Press Council is not feasible, they will at any rate put before us some alternative way of dealing with the two accusations which have been made, two accusations which have not been wholly disproved and which somehow or other we must wipe out.
Certainly we all expect from those in authority that if they say that the Press Council is not the right way to do it, they will tell us what is the right way. We shall look with very great interest, first on their decision as to the Press Council and, secondly, if that is negatived, to any alternative, because it is the interests of hon. Members on this side of the House just as much as in the interests of hon. Members opposite, just as it is of everybody whom we represent in Parliament, that by some means or other we should eliminate, first, the deliberate distortion of news and, secondly, any unhealthy pandering to crude sensationalism.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
If I may speak again by leave of the House, I think I can clear up the misunderstanding which I am afraid was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) about the discussion on broadcasting in the House on 16th July, 1946. I did not then say that the Government were going to appoint the Royal Commission on the Press. What I said was: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. In the interests of the health and the very freedom of the Press, which is vital to our constitutional liberties, we do not exclude the 2717 Press in principle from that consideration for it itself, as it has every right to do, has vigorously demanded an inquiry into the B.B.C., and the National Union of Journalists—who certainly believe in the freedom of the Press, as I do—have demanded in the interest of the freedom of the Press a somewhat similar inquiry into various matters connected with modern monopolistic or chain or group newspaper organisations in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1946; Vol. 425. c. 1084.]Later on, and this is where the misunderstanding may have arisen, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) in starting his speech said:The most interesting passage in the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman was his irrelevant announcement that the Government intend to set up an inquiry into the state of the Press.MR. MORRISON: The right hon. Gentleman should not cause me to repeat myself. He knows that I did not say that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1946; Vol. 425, c. 1098.]In fact, I did not say that the Government would set up an inquiry, I only said there was a case for considering it. The deputation, it is perfectly true, was received a few days afterwards. [Laughter.] This is quite true. In the final paragraph of the communiqué on that deputation, it was said that I had stated:I will report your representations to the Prime Minister and my colleagues in the Government. As you will appreciate, I am not in a position today to say whether the Government will institute any inquiry or not. If such an inquiry should be instituted, it would have as its object furthering and making wider and more genuine the freedom of the British Press.Therefore, there was no announcement of a decision to appoint the Royal Commission on either of those dates. That announcement was made at the end of the Debate on the Motion moved by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Stanley
I must confess that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman has not relieved my mind of confusion. Let me again put my point to the right hon. Gentleman. He will find it in his own speech at column 551. It was this, that he told us at some length about a deputation which he had received from the National Union of Journalists—
§ Mr. Stanley
In the Debate on the Press the right hon. Gentleman gave us a long story about receiving the deputation. He told us how they came to him—grave, earnest men. Then he came to the conclusion that they had made out a strong prima facie case, and went on to say:It was because of that"—because of the deputation—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.…[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 551.]Now we find, as I knew to be the case, that the right hon. Gentleman made the statement on broadcasting on 16th and did not receive this deputation until 22nd.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
I apologise to the House that, when this Debate has only been in progress for as little as two hours, I as a back bencher should insinuate myself into it. It seems to me that a tremendous amount of time on this important subject has been dissipated by all kinds of irrelevancies and backstairs speculation in which the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) specialises.
There was a stage when he was about two-thirds of the way through his speech when I really regretted that he had been elected, or had himself elected to open the case of the Opposition in this Debate. Like all hon. Members of this House, I know of him as a brilliant after-dinner speaker. I have heard him making brilliant speeches in this House after breakfast, but this was the first time I have heard him make a speech before he had an opportunity to refresh himself. And after about two-thirds of that speech I was tempted to beg of him not to repeat the experiment. However, the last half of his speech seemed to me to be not merely a contradiction of much of the tone of the earlier part but, indeed, to be fully worthy of consideration by the newspaper profession and by this great House.
He began by saying that he had no experience of the newspaper profession. But the skill with which he selected quotations from the Report to justify his own side of the case would get him a job in 2719 Fleet Street any day of the year. He was selective about some of the statements in the Report and he was sweeping in his generalisations about one memorandum which was produced by my own trade union, the National Union of Journalists.
It was clear that he had never read it because he said, referring directly to the memorandum, that it was perfectly obvious that the Union was not concerned with professional standards but that for party political purposes it was making a sweeping attack on a large section of the Press. He justified this charge from what he said were his own observations but, at the conclusion of his speech, he used the sort of words that were in fact used in that memorandum he had attacked. He and the Union were really of one mind in approaching this subject. One of the most significant parts of the memorandum of the National Union of Journalists was this:Hitherto the British Press has enjoyed a high reputation, and it is no danger to that reputation to admit that there is room for improvement.That, put slightly better, is what the right hon. Gentleman himself finally said.We ourselves are not very happy about certain perceptible tendencies which might do harm to our great traditions.It was in that spirit, and not in the spirit of a cheap political trick, that this great Union pressed upon the Government the desirability of having an investigation into the position of the Press.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Would not the hon. Gentleman admit that, if they had a political trick in mind, they would have to put it forward as something else? They could not very well say, "This is a political trick."
§ Mr. Mallalieu
As I have often thought from his articles, my old friend the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) is too smart by a half. He has become so cynical after long experience in Fleet Street and in the Conservative Party that he cannot see good motives in anybody. I believe there are enormous numbers of journalists who really have the interest of their profession at heart and are anxious to see that it is improved by any means on which we can lay our hands.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
A tremendous amount of time has been wasted on backchat, and I want to get on with my speech.
§ Mr. Baxter
But I did not say that it was a political trick; I merely said, if it were a political trick.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I will leave the hon. Gentleman to work out his convolutions by himself. The right hon. Member for West Bristol made considerable play with the evidence given before the Royal Commission by various hon. Members of this House, including myself. He referred particularly to the question of the pressure of advertising and the effect that advertisers have on what is said in the editorial columns and in the news columns of the newspapers. There again he was highly selective. He did not quote one part of the paragraph which I myself would select for the benefit of my case, namely, paragraph 527, which says:So long as papers do not pay without advertising revenue, a newspaper may well think twice before it adopts any policy which is likely to reduce advertisers' demands for its space.That is not a charge but it is a suggestion that these accusations about advertising pressure may after all have something to them. However, I will give the right hon. Gentleman much of his case on that part of it, that our evidence was unsatisfactory—at least my own evidence was—in the sense that it could not be proved. That does not necessarily mean that it was not true. It could not be proved for a number of reasons. When one goes into a newspaper office and takes on a job, one does not go there as a Gestapo or as a "nark." One does not say to oneself "In 10 years' time someone may appoint a Royal Commission, so I will keep all the evidence of all the things I disapprove of." One just does the job. Secondly, many of the instructions to which exception can rightly be taken are given by word of mouth.
Then there is the further point that anyone who happened at the time of the Royal Commission to be working actively on a newspaper would think twice about saying anything to the detriment of the newspaper by which he was employed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol has a gentlemanly code 2721 of conduct. I am quite certain that if he were my newspaper boss and if he were to think that certain criticisms I made of his newspaper were made honestly, even though they might be wrong-headed, he would not take action against me in the sense of dismissing me from my job. But there can be no such assurance about the attitude of executives and proprietors in Fleet Street. They do not accept that code of conduct. They demand, as seems pretty clear from some of the statements they themselves made before the Commission, absolute loyalty to the organisation which a man is serving and will look very harshly at anybody who produces evidence to the detriment of that organisation.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
If the hon. Gentleman is leaving the point of the evidence submitted by the National Union of Journalists, may I ask am I right in supposing that he does not accept paragraph 387 of the Report and what it says about that evidence? Does he ask the House to differ from the description of that evidence given by the Royal Commission?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Yes, I do in certain very marked respects. The Commission seemed to think that it was the job of the National Union of Journalists to provide a comprehensive survey of the whole British Press, but that was not the job of the Union; it was the job of the Royal Commission itself. The job of the Union was simply to put forward certain examples which would provide a prima facie case for this comprehensive survey. I think that in that particular paragraph, in its treatment of the evidence of the Union, the Royal Commission was a bit harsh.
But in spite of the great difficulties in producing evidence—from working journalists, at any rate—it is remarkable that whenever the Commission itself had practical experience under its own nose of the working of the Press it was inclined to be critical of that working. There was the case of the "Observer," referred to by the Lord President of the Council. There was the statement made subsequent to the ending of the Commission by Sir George Waters about the treatment by the Press of the Commission itself. The most remarkable piece of evidence to come from the Royal Commission was that obtained by a survey 2722 carried out by the Commission itself of what actually appeared in the newspapers of the treatment of particular subjects by particular newspapers.
I want now to leave the origins of the Commission and its difficulties in ascertaining the full truth of the present state of the newspaper industry and to pass to the matters with which the right hon. Member for West Bristol dealt in the latter part of his speech, covering especially the question of the need for a Press Council. The Royal Commission stated, I do not know with what truth, that the British Press is inferior to none. I do not know whether that is true; because I do not have experience of all the newspapers of the different countries. But whether or not that is true, although it is very gratifying it is not particularly relevant to the present position. We are not merely concerned with whether our Press is no worse than anybody else's. What we really are concerned with is that it should be as good as it possibly can be. If we ask ourselves, from our lay or our professional experience, whether or not the Press is as good as it possibly can be, I think most people in this House and, indeed, in Fleet Street, would say, "No. It can be greatly improved."
If that is our answer, that the Press is not as good as it should be or could be, the question then arises, will the Press of its own free will and by its own machinery bring about the possible and desirable improvements? I cannot answer that with certainty, but there is evidence that it is unlikely that the Press itself through its existing machinery will bring about those improvements.
The Royal Commission has stated that it has discovered, in certain sections of the Press at any rate, a most uncritical spirit; that it is not self-critical; that it has not got powers of looking at itself and finding out what is wrong with itself. It is a very curious thing that Fleet Street, or the Press as a whole, when dealing with faults in others, is full of muscular rectitude, giving talks straight from the shoulder telling people when they are wrong; but when other people suggest to the Press various places where the Press may be wrong, the newspapers then become shrinking violets biting their nails and stamping their little feet in anger. I think it is most unlikely that the Press of itself will bring about the 2723 improvements we want to see in the newspapers of this country. Therefore, I believe it will be necessary to have some sort of outside body like the Press Council, set up, preferably, by the Press itself, but if not, by the Government.
We are all agreed that the running of a newspaper is not like the running of any other sort of firm. A newspaper is not just the business of its proprietor for him to do what he thinks fit with it. The Press is of immense constitutional importance. It affects the everyday lives of everybody in society. It is, therefore, right and just that society itself should have a say in how that Press is run. I welcome, therefore, the proposal not merely to set up a Press Council but that that Council should be composed in part of people from outside the industry itself representing the "consumer interest."
That Press Council can do a tremendous amount of good. It can certainly help to defend the Press. Here I speak as a journalist, if I may, rather than as a Member of this House. It is, for example, a very bad habit of politicians, whenever they say something stupid at the weekend, to complain bitterly that they have been misrepresented in the Press. If there were a Press Council it would be possible for a reporter who had been accused of such misrepresentation, to take his notes to the Council and say, "I have been charged with misrepresentation. Here are my notes." In that way, therefore, the Council could act as a means of defending the Press as well as of regulating it.
But it is mainly as a means of trying to raise the standard of the Press that the Council will be enormously valuable, and it would be most valuable if we were to add something, or if the Press itself would add something, to the powers suggested for it by the Royal Commission. I should like to see the Council have the power, when it has criticised a newspaper adversely for its conduct, to force that newspaper to print the criticisms which the Council have made of it. If it did that, it would perform a very valuable function indeed.
I want to deal with one last point about the Report, which is of enormous importance. I myself am dissatisfied, 2724 from what little experience I have, with the approach of the Commission to the question of the tendency towards monopoly in the British Press. Nobody says that there is a monopoly—there is not; but that there is a tendency seems to me to be really beyond doubt. The figures given by the Commission for the number of daily and Sunday papers in existence in 1921 was 167. In 1948 that number had fallen to 128; and the number of nationals had fallen from 12 to nine.
The present-day number of 128, of course, are not all individual independent newspapers. Many of them are in chains like the Kemsley chain, which covers about 17 per cent. of the circulation of all general daily and Sunday newspapers. Others have only a tiny little circulation and are dwarfs compared with the circulation of the great popular newspapers like the "Daily Express" and the "Daily Mirror," which together cover, I think, something like 26 per cent. of the total daily circulation. There is here a growing tendency towards contraction in the number of newspapers and a growing concentration of newspaper power in a few hands.
Apart from the evidence of figures, we ourselves know perfectly well from our own experience that all shades of political opinion are not adequately expressed in the British Press. Even inside the Conservative Party itself there are different sections of opinion. There is the section of opinion which may possibly be said to be led by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), another section which is possibly led by the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), and it is just conceivably possible that inside the Conservative Party there are a small number of people who really agree with the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Yet, there are no means of expressing those three different points of view. The "Morning Post," for example, a great newspaper in days gone by, has been snuffed out, and I regret that very much. The same happens in the Liberal Party, though they have not three views, but almost as many views as there are Liberals. In the Labour Party there are great ranges of opinion, but we have only one daily by which they can be expressed. Possibly that is why that great newspaper 2725 is at times a trifle dull. There is no question that we have a feeling that there ought to be more newspapers.
I put to the Royal Commission a suggestion of how we could secure more newspapers. I suggested to them that it would be a good idea deliberately to restrict the amount of advertising revenue that any one newspaper could take to itself. I said that would do two things; first, it would mean a contraction in circulation, because one cannot afford to have a large circulation unless one is getting correspondingly large revenue. That in its turn would mean that where there was a contraction in the circulation an opportunity would be opened up for other people to begin a newspaper of their own. In addition to that, it would mean that advertisers crowded out of existing newspapers would be looking for new vehicles of advertising, the new newspapers, and would, therefore, provide them with the revenue they needed to carry on.
The Royal Commission considered this suggestion and offered only two criticisms of it. They said it might possibly result in a reduction in the quality of the newspapers. It is possible that that might happen, but there are tremendous economies which newspapers could make if they wanted without sacrificing quality—economies in some of the higher grade salaries, economies in the amount of money spent on stunts like those at the Albert Hall, air displays, and the rest, which are extraneous to the ordinary work of newspapers. They could make those economies and still maintain their high quality.
The second criticism was that it would interfere with a man's freedom of choice to get the newspaper he wanted, that a man who liked the "Daily Express" might find himself, under this scheme, unable to get it. But to a great extent that happens now. I happen not only to like the "Manchester Guardian," but to like reading it at breakfast. I cannot do that here, at least not the late news, because it is published in Manchester. There is no real freedom of choice in that particular instance and, of course, my freedom of choice is also limited by the fact that no newspaper fully expresses the point of view I like to see expressed. There is no newspaper which suits me completely.
2726 Even if those objections were valid, they would be insignificant compared with the advantages which could be derived from the proposal substantially to increase the existing number of newspapers. It would mean that instead of a small group of men over-emphasising their views and sending them out on a conveyor belt throughout the newspapers of the country, there would be dozens of little newspapers with real roots in the communities from which they sprang all throwing their common views, ideas and slants into the common pool and so helping to educate and improve the standard of thought in this democracy. I believe that would provide an enormous stimulus to the existing newspapers and an enormous stimulus to the people who read them. I believe that sort of proposal, plus the proposal of the Press Commission for a Press Council, will, if carried out, help to provide this country with a Press which is really worthy of it.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
I do not want to spend any time going back into the origins of this inquiry, except to say that there was criticism from the National Union of Journalists and, in addition, a considerable doubt in the minds of the public as to whether all was well with the Press.
I believe the Royal Commission have done a very good job in giving us the facts and in surveying the whole position and coming to a very balanced judgment. I was one who voted for the appointment of the Royal Commission. I voted freely and unwhipped. I did so with great confidence, not that it was a political manoeuvre—it may have been, I do not know and I am not very interested whether it was or not—but I was sure it was desirable that we should know more about this very important part of our democratic institutions which is described as the Press, because it has a very big part to play in the political life of this country.
I should not like to try to sum up in a few words exactly what the Commission have said, or to appraise the degree of blame or praise which the Royal Commission have assigned to the Press, if I might use that wide term—and I do not agree that it ought to be used, because the 2727 Press varies so much. So far as I can see, the Lord President of the Council erred a little in emphasising the criticisms which the Royal Commission had revealed and the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), speaking for the Opposition, treated us to very large sections of the Royal Commission Report—which some of us had already read—which refuted charges about the Press.
In my political life, which is not a very long one, I find that the public generally have been beginning to get a little doubtful of the Press. Their confidence has been a little undermined during the time I have been in Parliament, which, as I say, is not so very long. The old feeling of the people who are reasonably political was that a thing must be true if they read it in the newspapers. At least that is what my country electors felt, but they have rather changed that point of view now and there is another tendency for people to say, "You cannot believe everything you read." They are bewildered and I think that a very undesirable state of affairs, for which the Press are responsible.
Whether it is, as the Royal Commission say, that with the increase of circulation of the Press a different type of newspaper has had to come into being with a different type of editor, or whether it is for other reasons is not important to what I am saying at the moment. The public have been losing confidence in the Press a little and we have realised that more clearly because of the B.B.C. The public have not lost confidence in the impartiality of the B.B.C. People sometimes read their newspapers and listen to the B.B.C. news, and rather take it for granted more than is desirable that their papers will be biased and will present only one side of the case, and that they will get something less biased by listening to the news.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman is really saying that many people now do not believe what they read in the newspapers. Can he give us an example of some item of news which would fall under that criticism? Can he tell us what kind of item appears in the newspapers which people do not believe is true?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can find many specific cases 2728 referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission and in the evidence given. I could give examples, as I think all politicians could from their own political history, which would not be outstanding and which might in some cases be rather trivial. I do not wish to give particular cases.
I am referring to the general gloss which a newspaper gives to the news—the selection of the news and the way it is presented. I do not know what would be the right word to use, but I would say that it was rather titivating the truth. That is the sort of thing of which I complain—a little altering of it, not so that one could say that it is definitely a false statement but so that it gives a misleading slant to the news, which is much subtler, and which I believe is doing much more to undermine public confidence in the Press than the falsification of news.
I believe that many journalists in Fleet Street are themselves conscious of this tendency and would like to see it put right. I believe that it could easily be put right by the large newspaper proprietors themselves. But I do not think one can leave the matter there. The fact that some newspapers and some owners and many journalists recognise that all is not well does not mean that the matter will be put right; it may very well get worse. As the "Manchester Guardian" said in its leading article—and if the "Manchester Guardian" feels it is a fair statement that is good enough for me—a very large part of the Report of the Royal Commission is extremely critical of the Press. Therefore, it seems to me that the general case has been made out by the Royal Commission that something ought to be done by somebody to put this matter right.
I do not think that I need be accused of not being a good friend of the freedom of the Press. The previous occasion on which I spoke about the Press was, so far as I can remember, in the middle of the war. Then I was putting the case of a paper which was being warned by the Government that it would have to mend its ways. I do not need to say that the Liberal Party has always stood for the freedom of the Press, and it seems to me axiomatic, therefore, that to take any steps which would draw the Government directly into this business would be a 2729 mistake. The setting up of a Royal Commission is to my mind just about as far as the Government ought to go, so as to give us the facts, to tell us what the situation is. But whatever we do, I for one, and those with me in this party, do not want in any way to call in the Government against the individual large Press owner or against the Press as a whole.
Yet how are we to deal with the shortcomings, the imperfections that have been revealed? I think that one valuable effect of the Royal Commission may be to challenge what they themselves have described as the complacency of many people in Fleet Street. The Lord President of the Council referred to it. It is no use the Press saying "Well; politicians are complacent, and politicians are not always quite objective in stating a case," because although I might agree with the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) that a polemical Press is a good thing, it does not seem to me that it is the business of the Press to go into politics with a view to carrying a point of view.
One may leave liberty for individual papers to do that but it is not ultimately the function of the Press; it is the duty of political parties and individuals in politics. It is not the business of the Press primarily to achieve reforms, or to establish points of view or indeed to run political parties, as the Press has sometimes tried to do. That seems to me to be taking up the function of Members of Parliament and of political bodies, and to be forgetting that the business of the Press is to inform the public of the facts of politics and of events generally.
There is room for opinions too, and my belief in freedom does not suggest that I would agree to any action by the Government to prevent newspapers from being polemical. If a Press lord likes to try to start a political party, let him do so; it has happened in my time and was not a success, but I do not think it is a thing to be encouraged or something which this House or a large number of Members of this House would wish to see being done.
Of course we may, as politicians, also over-emphasise the importance of the Press. The party opposite won the last Election against an overwhelming 2730 majority of the Press of this country. President Truman, and Roosevelt before him, did the same thing in the United States. But that, again, is not a reason for being complacent, if the Press can be better, if it can help to inform the British public better, if we could have a more enlightened appreciation of political problems in the minds of the public, and if the Press could help to bring that about. I do not appreciate the argument which the Press sometimes use to one, namely, "Why do you worry about what we say? You seem to be able to win elections against us." That does not seem to me to be a very good argument.
I think there is a place for the proposed Press Council provided that it is not influenced by any passing Government, that it is a free organisation. I do not feel very strongly on the issue of whether there should be laymen on it or not, because I do not believe it will be a success with or without laymen, unless Fleet Street and the newspapers, or the majority of them or enough of them to influence the minority which may not wish to participate, accept it and try to work it. I hope that Fleet Street, the newspapers, journalists and proprietors and this inchoate thing which we call the Press or Fleet Street or the newspapers, will decide that the case has been made out sufficiently strongly that all is not well with their affairs, and will be prepared to try this as a solution; or at least as a step in the right direction.
Speaking as a layman and not connected in any way with the Press, I think that the Royal Commission's recommendation about including laymen would be helpful. I should have thought it would give confidence to the public that this was not a closed corporation; that the public would have representatives; that the consumer of the newspaper would, in some general indirect way, be represented. Of course, a body of this sort might develop into a rather closed shop organisation and something which could in some circumstances, defeat the whole object of the Royal Commission. But whether it would work more successfully without laymen we would be able to judge from its annual reports and from its performance.
I am sure on the question of taste and sensationalism there is a place for 2731 such a body. There would be a place where the consensus of opinion within the newspapers themselves could be brought to bear on the individual paper or the individual instance where good taste is over-stepped. It is all very well for a newspaperman to say, "Well, the public has the answer in its own hands. If you do not like the sort of things published in this paper or that, buy another one." But that may be very annoying to the public. A person may take a paper because he likes the sports page, and thinks that the sports writers in that newspaper are much better than others. He may be quite irritated to read something on the front or centre page which he regards as in bad taste, and something which he would rather not have seen in that particular newspaper. But, as I have said he takes the paper for quite different reasons.
The individual person who feels he has a grudge about something which is in bad taste has no recourse at all at the present time. It is no use for him to write to his Member of Parliament about it. It is no use writing to the editor of the paper about it. There is nothing that he or she can do and I think that there ought to be. A journalist may insinuate himself into a home in time of crisis and tragedy and something is published which disgusts the people concerned and their friends, and a lot of people who do not know them. There ought to be some recourse for such persons. It ought not to be to the courts; it cannot be to this place. It should be to a tribunal of the pressman's peers. It should be some body which can develop a sense of self-discipline within the newspaper world itself. I am sure the Press Council could deal with that.
Then there are the wider questions of bias in the reporting of news; of the integrity and independence of the pressmen themselves; of pensions and perhaps also of positively assisting journalists to improve their capacity for their job. The Royal Commission deals with this question of education. I think it a little delicate for someone who is not a journalist to speak about this matter. All I know of are the lobby correspondents who are at the top of their profession and I know how hard those journalists work to be well informed about every conceivable 2732 subject. They are well informed, not only on current matters but on the recent political history, and they do know their subject from A to Z.
But that is not always true, and 1 do not always blame the journalists. The range of subjects reported in the Press nowadays makes it exceedingly difficult for reporters to know enough of the facts to be able to report sensibly a speech made about some subject which is perhaps just a little off the beaten road. I am sure that there is a case for assisting journalists to extend their own capacity for doing a good job. I see in the current issue of "World's Press News" that it is suggested that a Press centre might be established where journalists would have the opportunity of improving their qualifications for their job without a Press Council. I am not technically able to express an informed opinion about it, but it seems to me a good idea and some constructive work which the Press Council could do in addition to any self-disciplinary action which it might take. I should have thought that there was room for such a body.
I repeat, it seems to me absolutely essential that that body should not in any way be influenced by the Government of the day. I notice in "The Times" today a letter from a man who has had much experience in the Press, Mr. Gibson. He makes this point, which had also occurred to me, that in some ways a Press Council would strengthen the position of the Press in the event of a Government at any time trying to interfere with the freedom of the Press. Some people are suggesting that the Press Council might be the first step to some sort of Government control, but I think Mr. Gibson was right, that the Press Council would provide an organisation which would be much too strong to allow Government interference with the liberty of the Press.
I am glad I voted for this Royal Commission. I think it has put the position of the Press in the right perspective. Everything is not right. There is a tendency towards concentration—if one likes to use that term rather than the word "monopoly"—in some provincial districts. There is now the problem of how to deal with "chains" which have developed to such a state that there is a danger that only one point of view may be given. I hope that, having had the 2733 suggestions of the Commission pointed out to them, the Press will have the vision themselves to take steps to correct matters; that then the Press will be able to do what I see as its main job so far as politics are concerned, which is to assist in presenting to the public political facts and political points of view so that the public can make a sensible judgment in political affairs.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
; I do not want to go into detail in connection with the remarks of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). I am a little uncertain whether he spoke about a Press mentor or a Press censor.
§ Sir S. Reed
I assure him that anybody who knows anything about newspaper work would recoil from that suggestion with horror and amazement. If there is anything calculated to emasculate the Press it is any form of censorship except in war-time.
§ Sir S. Reed
How a Press centre is to be constituted otherwise than in the form of a Press Council I find it rather difficult to follow. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) suggested that newspapers should be strictly rationed on the amount of advertisement revenue they were entitled to take. How on earth any man who has ever had the remotest connection with journalism can put up so fantastic a suggestion, it passes the wit of man to conceive.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this Debate. If I pass beyond the ten minute rule which I imposed on myself when I came to this House, perhaps I may be forgiven on this occasion, because newspaper work has been my life's work and my memory goes back to newspaper days before most hon. Members of this House were born. It was in 1887 that I started my connection with the newspapers and there is hardly a phase of that work through which I have not passed in one way or another, down to that most degrading of occupations—a newspaper proprietor.
Many hon. Members at the time regretted the decision of the Government 2734 to set up this Royal Commission. Now that it has met, done its work and produced its report, we are rather glad that that decision was taken. It has cleared the air to a remarkable degree. It is true that much of its work had been done by that elaborate analysis by P.E.P. and the little book by Mr. Wickham Steed published by the Penguin Press. This sober, informed and detailed review of the Press has an authoritative stamp as coming from a Royal Commission, which it could not have had if it had come from any other source.
The Report is valuable for many reasons. One is that it is so long that very few people will read it. It is true that 4,000 or 5,000 people have bought it, but buying Reports is very different from reading them. The analyses of the financial state of the Press is so complex that nobody except an accountant wilt understand them. I rather admire the wisdom with which the Commission has divided its work equally between the Report and the appendices. The appendices are so detailed and tedious that they pass as a record and nothing more. But now that the Report has been published, it has blown sky-high those allegations against the Press of which so much was heard in the House and in the country. We have an authoritative definition that there is no monopoly, no blacklisting and no general inaccuracy. There is no corrupt pressure and no undue influence by the advertisers. The final conclusion is that the British Press is inferior to none in the world.
That having been said, and all having quoted from the Report those parts which they think suit their own ideas or prejudices, there are one or two facts which are not in the Report and one or two points which have not been emphasised, to which I think it is well that we should direct our attention. I think that the stories of monopoly and pressure have been effectively dissipated. I want the House to believe that there was force behind them. Those who follow events know of the monopolistic influence and control which was going ahead in the provinces at a very rapid rate.
I know from my experience up and down the country that in great provincial towns where there were established papers of the highest repute, when I asked 2735 how they were getting on, the reply was: "We can carry on very well as long as one of the newspaper barons does not come in here, backed with millions of other people's money, and invade our territory." There was among working journalists a very great apprehension lest they should be thrown out of their profession at any time through the acquisition of the papers they were serving or through the suppression of those papers in pursuance of a policy which was then being followed generally.
I ask the House not to judge the National Union of Journalists entirely by the gross blunders they made in putting up the weakest case ever put up by anybody before a Royal Commission. I can speak with some confidence on this matter, because I was never a member of the National Union of Journalists. That union was formed after I had severed my connection with the English Press. But they did a very great work in improving the status, the conditions of service and the salaries of the rank and file employed by the newspaper Press. I say with a certain amount of regret that they did not come into existence in the days when I was being rather brutally exploited myself. The working corps of journalists owe a very considerable debt to the National Union of Journalists, on the one hand, and to Lord Northcliffe, on the other. The National Union secured for them decent conditions of work, and Lord Northcliffe decided that the higher hierarchy of the Press were worth a sum equal to that paid to the heads of other professions.
That was in the days before Lord Northcliffe fell under the tyranny of the net sale. It was in the days of the "Daily Mail," a good halfpenny edition of "The Times." He brought in those brilliant men, Marlowe, Charles Hands, C. W. Steevens and Beach Thomas and others whose influence was a great power for good in those days. Lord Northcliffe of the net sales came down to the sweet pea, the standard loaf and the Owen Nares hat. Those were the days of his descent, but we can never forget what he did in the earlier days.
Where the National Union of Journalists, and those who speak for them, committed the fundamental error was in overstating their case and in misunderstanding 2736 any possible remedy. It is true, as the Commission states, that there has been a certain recession in the development of the chain newspapers—that is the best term I can use. But what is the exact position? The figures are rather significant. According to the evidence, in the provinces 24 per cent. of the morning papers, 12 per cent. of the evening papers, 50 per cent. of the morning circulation and 20 per cent. of the evening circulation, are under one individual control.
That may be good or it may be bad. My impression, from my experience, is that it is not good that so large a portion of the provincial Press should be under one control, however disinterested and however great the integrity of the individual in control. Anyone who reads the speeches of the leaders of the great newspaper combines will know that they planned and intended to carry through a further great invasion of the provinces, and that they were only kept back by the difficulty of obtaining plants and premises in war conditions.
Turning to the remedy, this is where I think our friends went wrong in thinking that this tendency, if we conclude that it is undesirable, could in any way be wisely checked by statute or any form of legislative activity, for the remedy would have been far worse than the disease. The real remedy has been proved to be one that lies in the hands of the people themselves. After the most degrading competition in Newcastle between two monopolies, they decided to parcel Great Britain into spheres of influence, and they came down to the historic city of Bristol to tell the people of Bristol how many papers they could have and what papers they should have. The people of Bristol told them in very polite language where they got off. They decided to have their own newspaper, financed by their own citizens and controlled by their own tradespeople, and that newspaper dominates today. That remedy lies wherever it is needed and without any form of external support it lies in the hands of the people themselves.
There are one or two other points in the Commission's Report which have not been fully appreciated. It states that 50 per cent. of the revenue of newspapers comes from advertisements, but it does not go on to say that extensive newspaper 2737 advertising is the price which we have to pay for a free Press, and that the fact that we have a free Press is entirely due to the support of advertisers, because no newspaper can be produced for the actual revenue which comes from circulation. Not only that, but if any hon. Member will take a reputable newspaper and cross out all the advertisements, he will see what sort of a newspaper he would have and he will realise the value of advertising in meeting his own needs.
I am a diligent reader of "The Times," and, except for the sporting page and the theatrical page, I read it all, but when I turn to page three, I find somewhat the best and most dignified examples of advertising to be seen anywhere in the newspaper Press. It has occurred to me that an experiment might be tried in turning to the main advertisers to write the leading articles, and I think we might receive some illumination.
Who are the great advertisers today? The older generation will remember how a particular soap was advertised by an expenditure of £112,000 a year, or how another firm sold a penny-farthing article for 1s. 1½d. by advertising to the extent of £115,000 a year. But these are only fleabites. The Government advertising is now running at between £400,000 and £500,000 a year, and never the slightest attempt at pressure is put on from any part of the Government in the tremendous advertising revenue which it places in the hands of the newspapers. When newspapers give their biggest headlines to those points in the Commission's Report which particularly display their own merits, and when they go about wearing the white waistcoats of blameless lives, it should be pointed out that there are one or two points which should be carefully considered. There is the paragraph in the Report which says:The gap between the best quality papers and the general run of the popular Press is too wide, and the number of papers of the intermediate type is too small.I cordially dislike those terms "national paper" and "quality papers." I shudder at the thought of newspapers being called "national," as they are no more national than I am a national of Great Britain. I should prefer the terms "newspaper of opinion," and "newspaper of sale." Looking at another paragraph in the Report, I find this: 2738In our opinion, the newspapers with few exceptions, failed to supply the electorate with adequate material for sound political judgment.I have not seen that printed in letters of gold in any newspaper.
I would not be so presumptuous, looking back on my own experience, as to say to the great newspaper magnates what should be their conception of their functions, but I think they should ask themselves this question—What is the objective of our enterprise? Is it to influence the community, to bring a sober realisation of its responsibilities, duties, opportunities and its privileges, or is it just to sell a commodity? These two considerations are very far apart.
We may remember the General Election of 1906 when the mass of the newspapers did not support the Liberal Party and yet there was that great landslide in January, 1906. It happened again in July, 1945, when the superficial weight of the newspaper Press did not lie on the side of the Home Secretary and his colleagues, and yet we see the result reflected on the benches opposite today. It is quite true, as the Home Secretary will recognise, that they were extraordinarily lucky in the poll, and that while they have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, they still only represent a minority of the electorate. On the other hand, I think these two experiences in fairly recent events shed some light on the real power of the Press to influence the country, as being very small in comparison with its mass circulations and the enormous amount of capital and energy which is directed to its organisation and extension.
From where, then, is that improvement—I will not say development—to come, which we should all like to see? Not in any form of administrative direction, control or influence from any Government, not only this Government or any other Government that might be formed in this country, because along that path lies disaster. Does it lie in the formation of the Press Council? Whether that Press Council should be formed or not is a matter for the newspaper Press itself. I have never found a newspaper man who placed very high hopes upon its effective functioning. On the whole, I think the newspaper world would be wise to adopt that suggestion and form the council.
2739 There are two or three ways in which we might make the liberty of the Press greater still and give it a greater grip on the community and a greater power in the development of our national consciousness. I reject those passages in the Report which say that great editing is incompatible with a national newspaper as wholly unsound. In regard to recruitment and training, the Commission pay only passing attention to what used to be the method of recruitment to the Press. There were those taken in after a good general education who served four or five years' apprenticeship, and then passed on; and there were those who came direct from the universities. The two worked side by side, as, I think—and the Home Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—they did in the Post Office. In the Post Office they had men promoted from the counter and men from the higher ranks of the Civil Service, those with technical knowledge and those with the wider outlook derived from a university education.
Those two methods worked admirably. The man who served his apprenticeship became the editor if he was worthy of the post, and those who were not, remained newsmen for the rest of their lives. But they brought into journalism a knowledge of the industrial conditions of the country and the different sides of life—police court and the assizes—which gave them a sense of responsibility and pride in their craft which the pert office boy suddenly promoted can never have. Those who came from the universities brought in the culture and the wide outlook which come from a liberal education.
I am convinced that, in the long run—I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), touched upon this—the raising of the status of the newspaper Press will come through higher education. We have the unqualified endorsement from the Royal Commission that we shall find a higher standard of education in the school reflected in the development of the newspaper Press to an even higher standard than it has at present attained. Mr. R. D. Blumenfeld, who was connected with the popular Press for many years, 2740 said that he thought the popular Press was falling below the standard of the product of the secondary school. I think that is perfectly true. But if the standard of the primary and the secondary school is to be judged by the five million people a day who read the "Daily—"—anybody can fill in the blank—that is a thing, I think, that teachers should seriously take into account.
I, as one who was intensely proud of his craft, and who, perhaps, had an unexpected amount of good fortune in that craft, had a startling experience a few years ago. I was asked to speak on the newspaper Press at a London club which is well known, or rather famous, for its plain living and high thinking. The living is certainly plain enough. After my speech, I was asked by a body of scientists and also of social workers if I would repeat to them what I had said, and advise them. They used words which I must say affected me very profoundly. They said, "We find that all we are trying to do in our scientific and social work for the community is being undermined by the false ideals put before these people by the popular Press." It is the same popular Press which gloats over the panties worn by "Gorgeous Gussie" and the slacks worn by film stars rather than on forces which lie deep in our national life.
I am glad that the Lord President of the Council has repudiated any idea of State action because that would be fatal to the cause we all have at heart. Despite the vindication of the Press by the Royal Commission, I think the Press would be wise to set up their own Commission to examine this point from time to time and to consider also those pages in the Report which have pointed out features in journalism that are rather disquieting to most of us today. But I am convinced that, in the main, the elevation of the Press which we all wish to see, must be achieved through the universities and schools in providing a standard of taste and discrimination. Then, we may rejoice that this work has not been without effect, but has been a milestone on the road to removing a mountain of prejudice and bitterness and also to attaining a newspaper standard which will be a source of national strength.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies (St. Pancras, South-West)
My name has been mentioned so often in the course of this Debate, particularly by the first two speakers, that I am very glad to have the opportunity to make a few observations of my own on this important topic. The right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) quoted me so often that, in the end, his speech was almost a re-reading of the one I made originally in this House. However, I wish to thank him for the very fair way in which he gave the extracts.
It is rather strange to hear phrases like "triumphant vindication of the Press" come out of the Royal Commission's Report. Anyone who has read this Report cannot regard it as a vindication of the Press, because every page in it is a condemnation of the Press. I ask the House to consider this very carefully, because if we go on with one side saying that it is a vindication and the other side saying that it is not, we shall get completely at cross purposes. I propose, by means of quotations from the Report, to show exactly what it does say.
The statement by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) that people no longer believe what they read in the newspapers is, I am afraid, the truth. Because I was concerned about the fact that people no longer believe what they read in the newspapers, I was prompted to put down a Motion in favour of this Royal Commission. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) challenged the hon.' Member for North Cumberland to give an example of people not believing what they read in the newspapers. He is a distinguished ornament of the Beaverbrook organisation, and he will not be unfamiliar with the name of Mr. John Gordon, the Editor of the "Sunday Express." According to the Commission's Report, Mr. John Gordon is quoted as saying in a message on accuracy to his sub-editors and reporters:I do not wish to be hypercritical, but the plain fact is, and we all know it to be true, that whenever we see a story in a newspaper concerning something we know about, it is more often wrong than right.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman will agree that we are both professional journalists. I agree with every word that 2742 Mr. John Gordon said. The thing is perfectly obvious. The newspaper is dealing with 300 subjects a night. They cannot be experts on every part of the world. In comes a story. They handle it with the greatest possible accuracy; somebody named J. S. Smith appears as W. S. Smith. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is exactly what happens. Sometimes it goes further than that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am sorry to take up the hon. Member's time; perhaps I had better deal with this if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Quite obviously, a man who is on the spot must see that that is exactly what Mr. John Gordon meant. I am not concerned about defending Mr. John Gordon, but that is the fact of the matter.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
As the hon. Gentleman said, we are both professional journalists. I am not thinking about an initial wrong or a small slip of that kind. There are 100 pages of newspaper inaccuracies in this Report—100 pages of analysis of the treatment of national issues such as bread rationing, the National Coal Board and so on. I should like to know how this can be called a vindication of the British Press. Personally, I think this Report is a tragic commentary on the way the British Press is handled, and I shall endeavour to show why I think that is so. I should like to say this to the right hon. Member for West Derby—I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; I mean the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley)—
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
It so happens that the last time we had a Debate on the Press, West Derby was the constituency of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman has been having great fun with the Lord President of the Council. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has read paragraph 388 of the Royal Commission's Report. It says—and it is so true—The Government, which is always doing things, is obviously more exposed to attack than the Opposition, which is only talking about them.One would have been led to think, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that there was some deep plot behind the setting up of this Royal Commission of inquiry into the Press. I endeavoured to 2743 show, when this matter was first debated, that that was completely untrue. I do not do things because the Lord President of the Council tells me to do them.
§ Mr. Stanley
Perhaps the Lord President does things because the hon. Gentleman tells him to do them.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
I should like to believe that, but I have known my right hon. Friend too long to think that that is possible. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this was absolutely straight, clean and plain sailing, so far as we were concerned. There were no deep machinations behind it. It was prompted by a genuine feeling that all was not well with the newspapers and that the time to look into this question is now, before the trends become more and more exaggerated. One would think from the right hon. Gentleman, who now wants to defend the freedom of the Press and attack the Lord President of the Council and myself for wanting to corrupt the Press, that in the days when his party were in power, all was well.
I draw his attention to paragraph 506 of the Report, where we find the evidence given by Mr. Arthur Mann, who was editor of the "Yorkshire Post" at a time when that newspaper was opposed to the Munich agreement. Mr. Arthur Mann said:The Government of the day"—that is, the Conservative Government—standing for a policy of appeasement, did bring influence to bear on newspaper owners to support their policy.He went on:I also think that many members of the Conservative Party interested in big business thought there would be a better chance of business prospering if good relations with Hitler were maintained.He goes on to say that the Central Conservative Office brought pressure to bear on him to change the policy of the paper to support appeasement and not oppose it. This is the party that believes in the freedom of the Press.
To show that this is not an isolated incident, in paragraph 507 the editor of the "Glasgow Herald," a Conservative newspaper, which was also against appeasement, says that he and a director were invited to go and see a senior member 2744 of the Cabinet, and they were told that the Cabinet disliked the line they were taking. That was in the good old days when there was freedom of the Press from all Government interference.
There is a paragraph in this Report which deals with the Press and local authorities. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of what happened just across the road from this House only a few weeks ago when, unfortunately, the Middlesex County Council changed from Labour to Conservative. The first act of the new Conservative Council in Middlesex was to put a ban on the Press. As a result there were approaches by journalists, by this much-maligned body of which we have heard so much today, the National Union of Journalists, by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Pargiter) and other Members of Parliament in Middlesex. Here I quote from the local newspaper:After a storm of protest from newspapers throughout the country, Middlesex County Council decided on Wednesday to withdraw the ban it had imposed the month previously.The ban was one of the first acts of the new Conservative County Council. How can they pretend to believe in the freedom of the Press when all their actions show that they do not believe in the freedom of the Press at all? As I have said before in this House, the only thing they believe in is the freedom of the newspaper proprietors. I say to the right hon. Member for West Bristol that I do not believe that my original speech in the Press Debate has been disproved by the Royal Commission's Report. With most of the things I said, the Commission agrees. I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that I did not raise the question of advertising. That was raised by others of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Stanley
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the report of his speech, he will see that advertising is in the list to which he referred.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
It is in the list at the end. I only quoted it as one of the things I wanted to look into, but I did not elaborate it at all. I said that I believed in the freedom of the Press, and the Commission comes out with the same thing. I said that I did not believe in a nationalised Press, nor does anyone 2745 on this side of the House; and the Commission agrees with us. We are getting on very well. I gave the figures of what I called monopolistic trends. The Commission has confirmed my amateurish attempts to get an assessment of what was happening. They agree with my figures, but they are not quite as bold as I am in analysing the trends. The figures are worth looking at because some day, it may be not in this Parliament, this House of Commons will have to deal with the question of newspaper monopolies.
It is all very well to say it has not been happening recently. After all, we have had ten years of war, or ten years since the war started. We have not had the developments which we had in the '20s and '30s. But the fact remains that the number of Sunday and daily newspapers in this country has fallen from 169 to 128. In other words, there have been 41 deaths, and the only new birth has been the "Daily Worker." It is all very well for hon. Members to smile. I am concerned about the fact that these newspapers can disappear. The hon. Member for Wood Green knows as well as I do of many of the tragedies in Fleet Street when these newspapers are closed down with dramatic suddenness. We are bound to be concerned when we find that these organs of public opinion can be closed down, can disappear, at the whim of a man who, accidentally, possesses wealth—closed down without regard at all to the locality, the needs of the locality or the needs of the community. I was appalled when I saw these figures confirmed by the Royal Commission. From 1921 to 1948 the number of papers dropped from 169 to 128.
Again, I say it is not enough for the Commission to say, "Well, we hope it will not go on." It will go on. On the very day that this Commission's Report was published, it was announced that the "News of the World" had bought 75 per cent. of the shares in Berrow's "Worcester Journal," the oldest newspaper in the country; and that on the very day that this Report came out—a Report which was hoping there would be no further extensions of newspaper ownership. Of course there will be, and that is why I am sorry, personally, that the Commission was so timid in not coming forward and giving a lead as to 2746 how one could deal with these monopolistic tendencies.
A good deal has been said about the fact that the Commission said that the British Press is not inferior to any other in the world. I am disappointed in that reference. When I went to give evidence I was called to account—and I was a witness for the prosecution—because I said in the newsprint Debate that I believed we had the finest Press in the world. Hon. Members will find it in the evidence. At Question 3609 I was asked:But did not you say recently we had the finest and cleanest Press in the world?My answer was, "Yes," and I will say it again. I still believe we have the best Press—
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
I said the best and the cleanest. I am talking about the British Press generally, in comparison with the Press of other countries. But the Commission, this great vindication we have heard so much about, refuses to accept my verdict that the British Press is the finest in the world and all they are prepared to say is that it is not inferior to any of the others in the world. That is taken up in great headlines—"the attack that failed," "vindication of the Press," "not inferior to any other in the world"; yet I said, and I am still saying it now, that the Commission is wrong and that we have the best Press in the world. Surely I can be forgiven if I want to make it even better than it is by getting rid of the evils and having it on a proper basis?
§ Mr. H. Strauss
The hon. Member, referring to the number of newspaper deaths, attributed that to the big chains of newspapers. Is it not fair that he should bring to the attention of the House paragraph 345 of the Report, which draws attention to an effect precisely the opposite—namely, keeping alive papers which otherwise would have died?
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
If the hon. and learned Member had been listening to me carefully, he would have known that I was lamenting the death of those newspapers but that I did not attribute it to the chains. I am well aware of what is in the Report. I did not mention that at all. If he will look in HANSARD he will find that I did not say the chains were responsible for the deaths of those papers.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
I am coming to the monopolies, if the hon. and learned Member will give me a chance. Of the 66 towns in Great Britain which publish daily newspapers, there are 58 where local monopoly exists. In other words, if you want a newspaper with local news you have to take the one provided for you by the Press lords, and you have no option. It is no good anyone saying that the national papers come in as a corrective; they are not a corrective to the dozens of local papers who have a local monopoly. If my friends in South Wales want to know what is happening in South Wales, they are forced to buy the "Western Mail." There is no alternative at all.
I feel that the Commission, having pointed out these dangers and pointed to the 55 towns where there is this local monopoly, and having come to the conclusion that it was dangerous, should have done more than merely suggest the use of the Monopolies Commission to deal with it. I wish they had come out far more strongly and said, "The time has come to call a halt." After all, a pious hope that this kind of thing will not go on in the future is no substitution for action. I said earlier in this House that I felt the time had come to call a halt before it was too late. It is quite obvious from the figures that my ideas were right. The Commission are not prepared to take any action to prevent a possible further deterioration which they themselves say would be catastrophic if it occurred. I should have thought that the way to deal with it would be to get in first, before the position had deteriorated.
I will end by pointing out that the day the Report came out hon. Members opposite were coming up to me and almost saying, "Poor old chap. You have had it. This is a vindication of the Press and your speech was wrong." They have now read the Report and they are not quite as happy about it as they were because, after all, the condemnation in the Report of suppression and distortion is pretty damning. I hope hon. Members will take the trouble to read it. The criticisms of the triviality and sensationalism, particularly apparent in the 2748 national popular newspapers with a mass circulation, do not make very pleasant reading, and I cannot see how anyone can find in this Report a vindication of the Press.
Above all, there are their conclusions. No one has ever said that newspapers should not be political and that the leading articles should not contain the personal views of the proprietor. I would ask first, that the news columns should be truthful and then the views can be given anywhere they like. I feel that this Report has done a very great service. I am glad that the Commission was set up. As the one who started it all, I should like, through the House, to thank the Commission for having done a good job of work. I only wish that they had gone through the full logic of their investigation. I support them 100 per cent. in the proposal for the establishment of a Press Council which, I believe, will do more for the British Press and creative journalism than any other single thing.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I have listened as I think my hon. Friends have, with admiration for the courage and tenacity of the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies). He has sat in the boat after it has sunk. I think that that is the highest form of patience. However, in endeavouring to follow his mental processes, mine have become somewhat bewildered. He said at the beginning that every line of this Report is a condemnation of the Press.
§ Mr. Baxter
All right then, every page. Well, on one page, for instance, there are these words:There is no corruption in the British Press.Is that denunciation?
§ Mr. Baxter
I am not going to be bothered to give the pages. Hon. Members can find these words in the Report. Moreover, I am not going to give way at all.
2749 Then people make much play with the words that the British Press "is inferior to no Press in the World." That, to the hon. Gentleman, is not good enough. Apparently, we have to say it is superior to any in the world. Believe me, if anybody wants to say I am inferior to no other orator, I shall be content. Then there are the words in the Report saying there is "no secret ownership." Yet the hon. Member says every line is a condemnation.
Then he told us some remarkable things. Apparently, a deputation from the Central Office called upon Mr. Mann to tell him that many people believed that we could do better business with Germany under Hitler. If Mr. Mann was worthy of his salt, he should have ordered those gentlemen out of his house. It is utterly incredible that he should have even entered into conversation with them. There is something very strange about all that.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I ask this question without any desire to be offensive. I should like the hon. Gentleman to say quite clearly whether, if in 1938 he had written the kind of article that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) would have written against Mr. Chamberlain and his peace policy, Lord Beaverbrook would have allowed him to print it?
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman's irrelevancy is now famous in this House. He has now introduced the relations between editor and proprietor. That has nothing to do with this subject. I am talking of a responsible editor called upon by a deputation from the Central Office to order him or lead him to change his policy. That is an incredible story. No editor on earth would submit to such a thing. He tells a parallel story. I did not think that it was true then. I do not think it is true now.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am not denying the incident. What I am inquiring is, Why did not Mr. Mann throw them down the stairs or call the police and have them thrown out into Fleet Street? Since when have editors been receiving deputations to 2750 dictate policy? If there is condemnation it is not of the Central Office—that seemed to be unusually active for the Central Office—but of the editor who received the deputation. Mr. Mann, like an Oxford Grouper, chose to bare his soul before the Royal Commission, but I do not see what it has to do with the subject in hand.
The hon. Gentleman said that newspapers had died not because of monopolistic tendencies. I do not know from him what they did die of. At one moment he was denouncing the monopolies because, he said, they had caused deaths. This is a case of a split mind. One of the reasons for the deaths of some papers is that, in the progress of newspaper production, London papers have acquired the ability to print simultaneously in Manchester and Glasgow. We are able—I should say they are able, because I am not in the business now—to put upon the breakfast tables in every part of the country modern, fully prepared newspapers having expensive services and served by foreign correspondents throughout the world. It is not possible for a small local morning newspaper to afford such expensive services. Whatever demand there may be for the local morning newspaper, there is thus bound to be a demand for national morning newspapers. We can no more stop that progress than stop the flood of Niagara Falls. The result is that people now get much better newspapers than they did before.
I am sorry, personally, that those small papers had to die. I love the independent newspaper. There was an American editor who came over to see me—many years ago now—and he owned a newspaper in a small American town. I asked him what was the policy of his newspaper, and he said, "Come again?" I said, "What is the policy of your newspaper?" He said, "What do you mean by 'policy'?" I said, "What do you fight for all the time?" He said, "Hands off McMurtrie Boulevard." I said, "That is a very fine policy. Don't you ever let them touch McMurtrie Boulevard." And he went away happy. I do not tell that story entirely frivolously. That is how newspapers come into being: to fight some cause, small as it may be in some small place.
Now I must get down to my general oration. I want to condense what I have 2751 to say because there are others who want to speak and we want to hear them. It has interested me very much to watch the antics of the hon. Gentlemen most responsible for bringing about this inquiry into the Press. We are used to confusion of thinking on the Benches opposite, but the recent thinking over there about the Press and the Report upon the Press, has at all times been odd—and the attitude of the hon. Members for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), South-West St. Pancras, and Devonport (Mr. Foot). The hon. Member for Devonport was always the worst of these assassins and still carries a dagger and still looks like an assassin. The others are robed in robes of white, of virtue; and they say, "What harm did this do? We brought about this Commission, but look what it has said about the Press. What good we have done it!"
Well, once in a ship at sea the captain got drunk, and the mate, who was making up the log, being an honest man, was about to write in the log, "The captain was drunk today," when another officer said to him, "That will not look very good when it gets to the office. I should change it if I were you." Whereupon the mate wrote in the log, "The captain was sober today." The captain could as soon have been expected to be grateful to the mate as we on this side of the House could be expected to be grateful to the conspirators who have pulled off this unworthy thing.
I should like to discuss my version of how this happened. We have the four Members most concerned with us now. It is, perhaps, only a coincidence that they are all Government supporters and within actual—or, at least, psychic—contact with the Lord President. We shall not put it any higher than that. In their speeches they have tried to prove that, of course, their one purpose was to purify the Press, and to see that it had freedom of opinion and less monopoly. That was what the National Union of Journalists said. There were nothing but men on all sides wanting to improve the Press, and the suggestion that they were in touch with the Lord President was so raw and so malicious. Yet when the deputation came from the National Union of Journalists, by another singular coincidence it was the Lord President who 2752 received them, although he does not yet seem to know the date upon which that happened. I must say, I congratulate the conspirators; it was beautifully co-ordinated. If only the Government had handled the dock strike with as much adroitness, they would have done much better.
So we had the Debate, and the Royal Commission was set up. The more we examine the situation the clearer it becomes that this was a political move to disparage and muzzle the Press. I say that that can be proved by deduction, and the charge must be made. Nevertheless, the Report is a brilliantly compiled document, and has proclaimed the character and the quality of the newspapers and the British Press beyond any further challenge.
The hon. Member for Devonport is an interesting figure in all this. Nobody speaks with more energy, vitality and self-righteousness. He constantly attacks Lord Kemsley for the distortion of news in his papers. Now, the hon. Gentleman himself recently in his paper "Tribune" described the events at a party given by Mr. Edward Hulton the publisher. It was very well done. The hon. Gentleman was trained in the Beaverbrook school, so he knows how to write. He described this event very well. I do not know whether or not he was there, but he got the information. He described how the champagne flowed even more freely than water, how the banquent was sumptuous, how it was an enormous affair.
Then came the sting. Two prominent Members of the Conservative Front Bench were at this Babylon orgy. Did the hon. Gentleman not know that a peculiarly spectacular Member of the Government Front Bench was there also? Was this distortion by omission? Or was it just incompetence as a journalist? It is one or the other. I hope that when he comes to speak he will deal with this particular point of factual objective reporting. As far as the party is concerned, I do not criticise the Minister or the Government any more than myself. I would have gone myself if I had been invited.
When we had the Debate on the setting up of the Royal Commission, I offered, in the course of my speech, to give way 2753 to the hon. Member for Devonport so that he might answer the question whether or or not Beaverbrook, with all his faults, was not the greatest developer of talent in this country, because he made the careers of so many, including both the hon. Gentleman and myself. But so bitter is the hon. Gentleman, so much does bitterness cloud his judgment, that he preferred to remain seated rather than pay that small tribute. I think that was too bad.
I agree with one point that has been made today, that newspapers do not criticise themselves and each other nearly enough. That is a good point. Newspapers, which are the supreme untrammelled critics themselves, have no sufficient form of criticism. I do not like to see fraternisation in Fleet Street, except at the level of the reporters. I should like to see newspapers at war with each other, and one of the things I enjoy is reading the "Daily Mail" and the "Daily Herald" when they start hammering each other. Newspapers are too mealymouthed these days, and I give that point to my opponents. I say it is a good thing that there should be more criticism.
May I for just a moment take the House into the editorial side of a newspaper? Now, there are all sorts of things wrong with newspapers and they make many mistakes, but let me show how this kind of thing happens. A newspaper is created and published at great speed; events do not accommodate themselves to the schedule of editions; as one gets nearer and nearer to edition time, so there is a great strain; judgment has to be swift, and sometimes sheer fatigue will blunt the fine edge of judgment.
I should like to give an example of that. One night on the "Daily Express" many years ago, when we were supporting Lord Beaverbrook's Empire Crusade with great violence and great enthusiasm—because most of us believed he was right, and I still do—I had been on duty for something like 11 hours; it was about half-past 11 at night, when one mechanically goes through the functions of editorship, and suddenly the news editor brought me a story which had been telephoned by our local correspondent in Streatham, or Putney or some such place, to this effect: "Lord Robert Cecil, at a meeting last night at St. Michael's school, 2754 said that the only League of Nations that mattered was the British Empire, that it was the only workable league, and that he wanted to pay this tribute to the British Empire." Well, at that moment of sheer intellectual fatigue, and because it fitted in with our general policy, I decided that Lord Robert Cecil had seen the light, and I splashed the story right across the front page. I then went home very pleased with myself.
I woke up in the morning, the newspapers were brought to me; slumber had restored the façade of my shattered judgment, and the moment I saw the front page I knew that there was not one possible word of truth in it; it could not be true. How could Lord Robert Cecil, having devoted his life to the League of Nations, decide to renounce it in Streatham? Within the hour Lord Robert Cecil was on the 'phone; he was very nice about it; we apologised on the front page, and everybody said, "What a rotten newspaper." That is the kind of thing which sometimes happens, and when we hear this petty point about inaccuracies we must realise it is inevitable that a newspaper, dealing suddenly with the most unexpected of situations, must very often be inaccurate in detail. It is to me an eternal surprise that they are as accurate as they are.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am sorry to interrupt again, but as this is the last occasion upon which this matter will be debated, and as the hon. Gentleman is such an authority, I should like to ask him this question. Is it not a fact that it is laid down by the proprietor of a newspaper that a certain policy shall be followed in relation to the reporting of a certain kind of thing, and that in relation to the reporting of all news, the policy laid down by the proprietor of the newspaper is followed?
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman asks whether a proprietor lays down not only the policy but the very eyes through which the reporters must see events. In the first place, there is far too much stress being laid upon policy. Policy is an isolated thing. Policy is usually political, or, if you like, economic. But to say to a reporter going out "You must see this through our eyes" is not possible. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what is possible. If a newspaper is well run and there are discussions between the editor and the 2755 proprietors and the staff, a common point of view will be developed. Just as the crew of a ship at sea develop a happy understanding, so a newspaper becomes a happy ship, and there is a tendency for everyone on the staff to reflect it.
I want to deal with this strange recommendation about a Press Council. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) made a speech which terrified me. It was a speech of a maiden aunt in a lions' den. He spoke in that soft, seductive, agricultural voice of his and said that many people are now saying they do not believe what is written in the newspapers. I have generally found that people who say that are backwoodsmen in Pall Mall, whose intellectual development stopped with Kipling's "If" and who believe that the Fuzzy-Wuzzies were damn fine gentlemen. What he wants is a de-hydrated British journal such as we had in the General Strike, which was no doubt much admired by hon. Members opposite. What the hon. Member suggests is a horrifying spectacle. He has always been a little remote since we have known him in this House, and obviously he is not in contact with the facts of life.
Newspaper production is a most intensely individualistic thing. Somewhere there is a new Northcliffe, or a new Pullitzer, or a new Beaverbrook, if he is not exported by that time. They will alter the whole face of things. There will be new innovations and dynamic features, but all the time this strange Council will be tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, "We did not like that story you had this morning." It is a most ridiculous suggestion. Suppose a newspaper is losing circulation. Perhaps it has tried to produce a paper which is more intelligent and less strident, but the circulation is falling and the investors' money is in danger. What are they going to do in these circumstances, bearing in mind that the staff is also in danger? Are they to change their policy?
In the end, no matter who holds the shares and who are the directors, a newspaper is in the hands of the readers. It is within their power to ruin a newspaper in one day by not buying it. A newspaper worth millions of pounds can become bankrupt in 24 hours, its only value being its machines and real estate. But here comes this Commission to tell newspapers 2756 where they go wrong, what they should do and what they should leave out. It is not common sense.
The attitude this House should take up is the attitude which should have been taken up two years ago—hands off the British Press. We have heard suggestions about educating journalists, but what about educating Members of Parliament who have to deal with far more subjects than journalists? I believe that Members opposite are with us on this issue. Let the newspapers criticise each other and fight each other, but remember that this is the Fourth Estate and that we have the most honourable Press in the world. We should send out, as a message from this Debate, "Hands off the British Press."
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I should like to deal briefly with two personal references made by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). He accused me, as joint-editor of the "Tribune," of having suppressed essential facts in a story which appeared in our paper two weeks ago. It was a story describing the now famous Hulton party. The hon. Member said that, while saying two prominent Members of the Opposition had been there, we had suppressed the fact that a prominent Member of the Government was also there. The hon. Member's charge is completely untrue. When we wrote the article, which has proved to be accurate, I certainly did not know that a Member of the Government had been present at the meeting. A few days later I received a private letter, which was not a letter sent to the editor for publication, from a prominent person who had been at the meeting, saying that a certain member of the Government had been present. I wrote back and said we were quite willing to publish the letter in the next issue, and if the hon. Member will buy a copy of the "Tribune" of today he will find the letter is there. If every newspaper dealt with questions in that same open fashion the British Press would be very much better.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not think it is incompetence, because no other paper got the news; or perhaps the suppression was 2757 going on in the other newspapers. I do not want to make the hon. Member get up and apologise for all his arguments, because it would take rather a long time.
I will only say this about Lord Beaver-brook. If there is any suggestion that my interruption in the hon. Member's speech on the last occasion showed a churlishness to Lord Beaverbrook, I should like to remove that impression. I have a great personal affection for Lord Beaverbrook, who has done great service to me. I have never made any personal attack on him, but I have made many political attacks, which I intend to continue with increasing momentum as the General Election comes nearer. I have never had any complaint from Lord Beaverbrook. I do not ask for another withdrawal from the hon. Member on that subject.
The hon. Member for Wood Green said that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) is staying in the boat after it is sinking. That seems a curious charge, because so many Members opposite have been making haste to climb in the boat. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) made a remarkable speech justifying a lot of the evidence the N.U.J. put forward. He spoke of the widespread concern throughout the country about the provincial newspapers and the decline in their number. He seemed to be agreeing with us today, although he voted against the Royal Commission two years ago.
Much the same attitude has been taken up by other Members of the Opposition, and it seems that the only person who is not in favour of the recommendations made by the Commission is the hon. Member for Wood Green. The oftener I hear the hon. Gentleman make a political speech the more I think I was wise when I appointed him dramatic critic of the "Evening Standard." We all enjoyed the dramatic criticisms of the hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) and others who have spoken in the Debate, but what the hon. Member for Wood Green said did not have much to do with the case. It is rather tedious that we should have the same sort of Debate as that which took place before the Commission was set up.
I want to make a brief reference to the hon. Member for West Cumberland who, 2758 I think, made a dangerous point when he suggested that a Press Council might be set up without laymen being represented on it. I think that suggestion was not merely worse than useless but dangerous. I believe that such a Council without lay members on it so far from providing the consumer with a method of protesting at what has been done by a newspaper, might consolidate the power of the great proprietors and make things more difficult for the really independent newspapers. I hope that no such Council will be set up without lay members being represented upon it.
Now I should like to say something about the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), who spoke with his usual wit and his usual wisdom—the first part of that sentence is intended as a compliment and the second is not. I am sure we were all touched by his journalistic experiences, and the fact that he had failed to get his articles published in the newspapers. He asked me whether I would write an article about him for the front page of the "Daily Herald." He must have forgotten that I did so some six months ago, when I ransacked his past career for so long to discover favourable aspects that there would not be anything left if I were to try to deal with that subject now. However, if the right hon. Member wants to contribute regularly to the Press, I offer him, here and now, space in the "Tribune." We have been looking for a long time for a new Nathaniel Gubbins with a taste for politics, and we should be glad to have him as a contributor.
The right hon. Gentleman referred at length to some of the things which had been said in our previous Debate on the subject. It has been argued that the Commission has not upheld the charges which were made by several of us in that Debate. But what the Commission has certainly done is to reject altogether the views expressed by many of those who opposed the Commission in the original Debate. There was, for instance, the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) who expressed two opinions in that Debate. First, he said that the use of the word "monopoly" was an abuse, and that there was no suggestion that anything within miles of a prima facie 2759 case had been made out. The right hon. and learned Member particularly referred to the provincial dailies, and on that the Commission are quite clear. They underline the special vulnerability of the provincial papers, state that a further decline in their number would be most undesirable, and they frequently and at length discussed the question of the perils of what they call local monopolies. The right hon. and learned Member, who said the Opposition knew all about this subject, must have learned a considerable amount since he read the Commission's Report.
The most remarkable statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in that Debate was that Scott's famous dictum about the sacredness of news was not being neglected. He said he refused to believe that news was doctored. If he believed that before the Commission was set up he cannot possibly believe it today, because the whole of their Report completely explodes that point of view. The Commission showed that news is always out of focus, that there is persistent distortion owing to political bias. Therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot possibly hold the opinion which he gave the House at that time as one of the reasons why the Commission should not be established.
There is also the case of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), who also gave his reasons why the Commission should not be set up. In the original Debate I said that in America, in the last 20 years, the total number of newspapers had been halved, and that in 10 States there was a monopoly in every town. That remarkable fact gave rise to the appointment of a Commission in America. The hon. and learned Gentleman pooh-poohed all this, and said the matter was of no concern and no interest. Referring to this country he said there might be a tendency towards that sort of thing here, but the question was whether there was any sign of danger.
The Commission's opinion was that it would be dangerous if a further concentration of newspapers took place. Although they have not been able to propose any precise measures for dealing with the problem, they say the danger is such that they hope there will be no 2760 further decline in the number of provincial dailies or chains. It is remarkable that the Commission were appointed and examined the matter at the moment when they concluded that the ideal state of affairs, as to the number of papers which existed, had been reached. The Commission did not condemn what had happened in the past, but said that they did not want to see any more of it. The Commission, it seems, were appointed in the nick of time. If the hon. and learned Member had waited a few more years a few more papers would have been swallowed up, and the Commission could not have reached the same conclusion. If the Commission have done nothing else they have brought some enlightenment to the hon. and learned Member; had it not been for them he would have been as ignorant on this subject today as he was when he rose to make his speech in the original Debate.
§ Mr. Maude
I said:If the United States has had its papers halved what does it matter. The United States has every conceivable kind of paper. 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 563.]
§ Mr. Foot
That is a rather tedious way of substantiating what I have said. The hon. Member said if the number of newspapers in America is halved what does it matter? That is his opinion. But it is not the opinion of a great number of leading lawyers in America and all those concerned with civil liberties, who are very anxious about this matter. A Commission was set up there to examine it, and arrived at some of the conclusions at which our Commission arrived.
Now I want to turn to the most important aspect of this matter—the question of monopoly and monopolistic tendencies—and take as my text, as I did in the original Debate, the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who has said:Our ideal is not the concentration of ownership but spreading it over the widest possible field and the largest number of individuals.2761 I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman still holds that opinion since the latest issue of the Conservative Party's programme, but it still holds for me and I hope it still holds for Members opposite. It is true the Commission do not speak of a general tendency towards monopoly. They say there is a concentration of ownership. I am not clear myself about the distinction between the two; I think it is something of a quibble. When the Commission say they do not find a general tendency towards monopoly that seems a strange conclusion to reach from the facts which they assembled.
It is for that reason that I described the Report as tepid and unimaginative. Figures have been given by some hon. Gentlemen, but I should like to repeat them. Between 1921 and 1948 the total number of general daily and Sunday newspaper in Great Britain fell by 24.2 per cent.; national morning and London evening papers decreased by 25 per cent.; Sunday papers by 23 per cent.; provincial papers by 39 per cent.; and provincial evening papers by 15.7 per cent. A decline on such a scale in a period of something like 27 years is, indeed, a very big decline. How much bigger would the decline have to be before the Commission would say that there was a monopolistic tendency?
Suppose we had a Commission to examine the number of shopkeepers, and after examining the position the Commission came to the conclusion that during the past 27 years the total number of shopkeepers had declined by anything between 25 and 40 per cent. Surely the people would say that this was a remarkable tendency. But by some aberration—because many of us think the Commission have done a good job in other respects—they cannot detect a tendency towards a monopoly in newspapers in a decline of that scale during this period. The Commission say that this tendency, although they doubt whether it exists, has gone far enough and they hope it will not continue.
They have not proposed any positive action, for the reason, in my view, that they have taken too complacent and wrong a view of the dangers of the situation. They think the tendency towards monopoly has automatically stopped. But this argument is very weak. It is 2762 based on their claim that the tendency for the decline of newspapers was greatest between 1920 and 1929, that it was not as great between 1929 and 1937, and that from 1937 to 1948 to some extent the tendency towards concentration has even been reversed. This seems to me to be an absurd argument, because from 1937 to 1948 there were only two years when there was no newsprint control.
In any case, the process of concentration in any industry does not go in a smooth, even process. Usually great bursts are followed by relaxation and after that another burst. It is just as probable that when newsprint is free and when big newspapers have the opportunity of buying newspapers again or starting new newspapers in the areas where they want to start them, that there will be a repetition of what happened between 1921 and 1929 as a repetition of what happened between 1937 and 1939.
Someone has spoken on this subject with far greater authority than the Royal Commission, and that is Lord Kemsley. I said some hard things in the original Debate about Lord Kemsley, and I think it right now to pay my tribute to the candour with which he gave his evidence before the Commission. It was his evident desire to conceal nothing. Indeed, as I read the evidence it strikingly reminded me of the situation which often occurs in Russian spy and espionage trials. I do not know whether the Commission went to work with drugs and bright lights, but who of us who used our influence for this Commission would have imagined that Lord Kemsley would come forward with such a full and open confession? Yet that is what he did. Not merely did he confirm the charges of distortion which we had made against his newspapers, but he gave vital facts about the concentration of ownership and about the dangers of the general situation, dangers which the Commission have not properly understood.
That is what Lord Kemsley said. I am not quoting him exactly, but this is an accurate assessment of what he said. He said first of all that he was being continually approached to buy new newspapers; second, he had refused to buy them solely on personal grounds; thirdly, the size of his own chain had not reached the optimum point from the economic 2763 point of view; finally, that in any battle between chain newspapers and independent newspapers, the chain newspapers were certain to win. Those are arguments which seem to me to be conclusive. Lord Kemsley confirms the whole case that we put on this issue, and if we in this House spoke with greater moderation than he did before the Commission, it was because we were not as intimately acquainted with the facts as he was.
The only safeguard against chains extending still further—a process which the Commission would deplore—rests with the personal fancy of the chain owner. Great provincial newspapers may fall into economic difficulties. In any battle the chain owners are assured of victory. That is what Lord Kemsley said. What a temptation for anyone less modest than Lord Kemsley. We cannot always be assured, however, that Lord Kemsley will be in charge, or that the self-restraint he always exercises in this matter is going to be exercised. If this cool, cautious Bismarck of Kemsley House is succeeded by a Kaiser Wilhelm, or if this Solomon is succeeded by a David what a calamity could occur.
Therefore, I do not think we should trust solely to the fancy of the chain owner for the prevention of this extension of monopoly, which the Commission deplore as do all those who subscribe to the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington about the desirability of the diffusion of ownership. I, therefore, deplore the fact that the Commission has failed to consider properly remedies for the disease which the Commission itself says may be dangerous, and which Lord Kemsley says is positively chronic.
If the Commission has been mealymouthed about the dangers of monopolies generally, they have certainly proved up to the hilt the case that we put on the undesirability of local monopoly, and of the real perils which exist in this field. If anyone cares to read what I said at the Commission they will see that nine-tenths of the evidence I presented dealt with this aspect of the subject, and the facts they have produced are overwhelming. They have proved that there is a danger of local monopoly, and they have agreed that this is a very serious thing.
2764 Some of the facts have already been given, but they need to be emphasised again and again, because they are dramatic. The newspapers which the Commission thinks are on the whole the most reliable newspapers in the country, and those newspapers which we know are much more reliable in the presentation of news than the national newspapers, are what are known as the provincial dailies. They are more reliable largely because they circulate in a given locality, and the people reading a story can check it up and see for themselves if the facts are true. It is no accident that the Commission said what we said in the original Debate, that on the whole the provincial dailies are the most creditable part of the Press. But these are the very papers which the Commission says are most vulnerable. It should be noted that no new provincial papers were started in the period under review. Sixteen ceased publication, and many were in a serious economic position. It should be noted that in 58 areas out of 66 in which a daily newspaper is published there is a local monopoly in the sense that there is only one local newspaper.
I believe that this is a highly undesirable state of affairs, and when hon. Members opposite attack us because of our motives for starting this campaign, I should like to read to them what has been said by the owner of an independent newspaper, who is at this moment fighting a battle for his own existence. He is not the owner of a Labour paper; he is not a member of the Labour Party but an opponent of it, and he frequently criticises the Labour Party in his paper. He is fighting. The hon. Member for Wood Green said he wanted papers which fought for a cause. I will tell him one—the "Inverness Courier," one of the oldest papers in the country, an independent newspaper fighting for the last five or six years against the menace of the chains. These chains are still using illicit methods of competition.
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Wood Green to get up and piously say that newspapers have abandoned those illicit methods of selling vacuum cleaners and all the rest of it. They have abolished part of it, but they always have stunts such as special holiday camps and suchlike methods which however desirable in themselves, are not the business 2765 of newspapers. They give to newspapers in some areas an advantage over the independent newspaper. Take the case of the "Inverness Courier," which welcomed the setting up of the Commission and said that the only people who would oppose it were those with something to hide. The editor invited the Commission not merely to sit in London but to see what people thought about these things in the provinces. He said: "Come to Inverness, and see what is happening. Come and get the local feeling. See what battles we have had to fight." When a great private interest was proposing to take over the water supplies in the Highland area this independent newspaper fought those interests week after week until they were beaten. How much help did it have from the Kemsley newspaper in Aberdeen? None whatever. It was very tame, silent, muzzled. This is what the editor said:I do not want to sell the 'Courier.' In particular I do not want to be forced to sell it, and above all things I do not want to be forced to sell it to one of the chain groups, or indeed, to any person, party, or group who is unlikely to carry it on as it has so long been carried on, that is for the benefit of the Highlands and the Highland people, by people who know and love the Highlands and the Highland people. In that I am far from being unique. On the contrary I am but one of many owners of local newspapers, small as well as large, in many parts of the country, whose papers have served their own localities as wholeheartedly, and with as deep a sense of responsibility and pride, as mine has, and who, since the coming of the chain groups, have lived under the shadow of the fear that they might be compelled, sooner or later, to sell out or surrender their independence to one of these groups.I have not any doubts which side I am on in that battle. It is the danger that independent newspapers who are serving their localities and who have a sense of local pride and who have the knowledge that they can really interpret what is happening in their area, should be squeezed out, rubbed out or muzzled so as to become part of a great chain of newspapers run by people from London. That is the sort of thing which has been happening. The Commission have not really tackled the problem of preventing it from happening.
I have only one word further to say. There is much to be proud of in the journalistic profession, but much is done in the name of journalism which is a disgrace to the newspapers, to the journalists and to the proprietors, as well as a disgrace to the country. In the system of ownership and the tendencies that are 2766 going on there is a danger that may recur as soon as newsprint is available. There is in this system a serious menace to the rights of free expression of and the rights of public controversy in this country. If I believe those things is it a crime to try to fight this menace? Is it a crime to fight this peril, that great owners from London should be able to stretch their control wider and wider across this country of ours and to subdue and subject local pride, local initiative and local power? It is damnable that such a thing can go on. That is the real reason why we started this fight and why we are intending to go on with this fight. The battle will go on. The Report of the Commission does not mark the end. It marks the beginning.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I am very fortunate in being called upon to follow the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), for a variety of reasons. One of them is that I am prepared to pay him the tribute of saying that he has made an eloquent speech. Another reason is that he is really the fons et origo of this matter. I am going to show how truly this case has been torn to pieces by the Royal Commission in the evidence which he himself gave before it. A third reason that I am glad to follow the hon. Member is that I have always had that curious form of snobbishness, an admiration for genius. It is an entirely sincere compliment to the hon. Gentleman when I say that he is a genius, but that will not prevent me from making very derogatory remarks about him.
He quite recently paid me a compliment which I am sorry to bring forward now. I am sorry to have to say what the compliment is, in front of my right hon. Friends on these benches. He had a little notice in the "Daily Herald" in which he said that he thought that with all my faults I was the most competent fighter against the Government on this bench. I was so pleased with his observation that I stood myself a champagne dinner. He went on to say, with that truth which always distinguishes his articles, that some of my right hon. Friends sometimes looked rather askance at me when I make some of my remarks about the Government. Hon. Gentlemen will see from all these observations I have made that I am no personal enemy of his, but 2767 I have to say a few words about his attitude and the attitude of his party on this matter. That is why I am very glad that we have this Debate today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out that it was high time that it took place.
I have a personal observation to make, which is that I have had for some time a connection with the Kemsley Press. I cannot claim to be as competent a journalist as the hon. Gentleman but I have had a long experience of journalism. When I was at Eton, I was sub-editor to Mr. Gilbert Frankau, and I must say in all frankness that after the fourth issue of the paper, the publication was suppressed by the headmaster on the ground that it smacked of the yellow Press. That was the phrase used by the late Dr. Warre about the paper in question. He held views like those of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He wanted to suppress papers that he did not like. I am sure that the hon. Member for Devonport would like to do the same with the Kemsley Press.
After that rather frivolous opening, I would like to say that seldom in the history of Royal Commissions has the evidence of witnesses been more pulverised by examination before an impartial official body than that of the hon. Members for Devonport, South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) and Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu). For some reason best known to themselves, these hon. Members, who are respected Members of this House, chose to clothe themselves in their attacks upon the Press in general, and upon certain of the newspaper organisations in particular, with all the garments of innuendo, gossip and prejudice which they could find. These were torn off them by this examination and they were left in their naked unloveliness.
I will quote one or two examples because I think it will be a useful contribution to the Debate to quote some of the evidence given by the hon. Gentlemen. Listening to the speeches we have had from the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) and the hon. Member for Devonport, one would suppose that the Commission had agreed with what they said and that they had an easy time before it and held their own. I shall make my quotations comparatively 2768 truncated. This is one of the questions put to the hon. Member for Devonport:You are aware that on the Continent, where there are an enormous number of papers, that does lend itself very much to blackmail and many undesirable things?—Yes. I do not know whether that is due to the multiplicity of papers or due to the general position of their political life. I think there are other factors which may explain it.Is it not very largely because they cannot make a living honestly and so they have to take dishonest money in various ways?—I do not think that is the sole cause by any means.That is an expression of opinion: I asked for details?—I have no evidence of detailed cases of misrepresentation with me, but it would be easy to make a full analysis of the papers' treatment of some issue like bread rationing and you would then see where the misrepresentation lies.Chairman: Have you some case actually in mind where a local independent paper with a larger circulation than an invading chain newspaper, nevertheless succumbed to it?—No.Yet a great deal of the hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to explaining how chain newspapers were killing local newspapers.
§ Mr. Foot
On the subject of bread rationing, I hope that the noble Lord will take notice of the fact that the Commission accepted my suggestion and made an inquiry. As to chain newspapers, the Commission do refer to some cases in which the chains have actually been the immediate cause of the death of independent newspapers. It was because we wanted to discover these facts that we asked for the Royal Commission to go into the job.
§ Earl Winterton
We are all aware of that. What I am concerned about is the rough passage which the hon. Gentleman had at the hands of the Commission. I could quote many other examples. Here is another—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is cross-examination."] It is not ordinary cross-examination. Cross-examination in a court of law is by a lawyer who is hostile to the case of the other side. This was an examination by members of the Royal Commission who were anxious to arrive at the truth. I have sat on many Committees of this House and Commissions, and when the chairman and the members of an impartial body like that ask the sort of questions they asked the hon. Member for Devonport, they are not very satisfied 2769 with the evidence he has previously given. Here is another quotation:You said the chain papers carried out in national politics a policy dictated from London, roughly, did you not?—Yes.And that the same dictation was exercised in regard to local politics and local matters. Is that credible and possible?—I think it is possible.Is it likely?—I think it is very likely.Is it likely that a proprietor in London should worry about the gas and water politics of someone in Plymouth?—I think he lays down the line they should follow. I think that applies to local as well as national news.Throughout the examination of the hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken, in not one single case did they make good their point. No impartial person who read the speeches which have been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) this afternoon, the speeches which were made in the previous Debate, the charges made in the Press by the hon. Gentleman and the charges which were made in this House about Lord Kemsley, and then the Report of the Commission, could say otherwise than what I did, that these hon. Gentlemen were left without a single vestige of evidence to support what they had originally said. I admit that possibly they were not so discredited as witnesses as were one or two other gentlemen outside. I think that the most discredited witness of all, and the most fantastic one, was Mr. Hannen Swaffer; but they came very near it and it was a race as to who was the most discredited witness. I do not really know who came first.
I say in all seriousness to the hon. Member that if he had made, not in this House or before the Commission but where his statements would not be privileged, the kind of charges he has made against Lord Kemsley and against one or two other newspaper proprietors, had they chosen—which they probably would not have done—to bring an action for damages, I think he would have had to pay £10,000.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well—he is not quite as innocent as he appears to be—that a quotation in a newspaper from what he said in this House is not a breach of Privilege.
§ Mr. Foot
I know it is wrong to interrupt the noble Lord further, but I should make it clear that the statement we printed in "Tribune" was not a report of what had been said in this House. It was an article printed before the Debate in the House of Commons in which I made all the charges that I made in the Debate. In the "Tribune" of two weeks ago—if the noble Lord will do me the courtesy to read it—he will see that the charges I made before the Commission were also published in that paper.
§ Earl Winterton
I still maintain the point I made—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—and I say this further to the hon. Gentleman and to those who are so actively supporting him: what had better be withdrawn are the innuendoes made by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the Press which have been proved by the Report of the Commission to be so singularly without foundation. I think nothing of the general honour or the standard of competence of people who so insult their own profession as some hon. Gentlemen opposite have done. I now pass to my next point.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, the noble Lord is continually crossing the red line.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, the noble Lord has made a serious charge against my hon. Friend, namely, that he said things under Privilege which he has not been prepared to state in writing in tile Press. My hon. Friend has denied that. The noble Lord refuses to withdraw. Is it not grossly discourteous?
§ Earl Winterton
That is a fair point and I certainly accept it. If the hon. Gentleman says that he has said outside, where it is not privileged, everything he has said here, of course I accept it. It would be wrong to do otherwise. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling attention to it. I will now get on with my speech. I think nothing of any hon. Gentleman belonging to any honourable profession who so insults that 2771 profession as so many hon. Gentlemen opposite have insulted the general profession of journalism. They have brought every sort of charge against it. One of the benefits of this Royal Commission has been to prove how true those statements are.
I placed a voluntary time-table upon myself and I only want to say in conclusion that in my opinion we have in this country, in the Press and the legislature—that is to say, in Parliament and the Press—the two finest institutions of their kind anywhere in the world. As one who is an amateur journalist and a senior Member of this House, I stand proudly here to say that. The two are complementary to each other and nothing could be worse for either this House or for the Press than that they should fall out. They have done so occasionally in the past and it has not been to the advantage of either. Of course, it is true that each fails occasionally adequately to perform the great task which they have in common as the twin guardians of liberty and democracy, but in general they reach a higher standard than any other Parliament and Press in the world.
I go further than that and say that in this House, as in the newspapers, there is a decency of reticence in certain matters which is unknown in the Press and in the legislatures of any other country. I remember an example of that in the case of an old-time Member of this House, a certain Mr. Lynch, who was an Irish Nationalist Member. Mr. Lynch had fought against this country in the South African War and had been in prison for it because he was a British subject. He was returned as an Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament. He often took part in those violent Debates. Nobody ever reminded him of his past, because it would have been contrary to the traditions of this House to do so. Equally, things are kept out of the Press; certain cases of scandal affecting certain people, which, if reported, might produce imitators in other directions, are kept out of the Press.
We have in this country a decency in the legislature and in the Press which is known in very few other places, and it is a great pity that any impression of the opposite should get across. I say, therefore, 2772 that it ill becomes any Member of this House to bring the sort of charges that hon. and, to a great extent, right hon. Gentlemen opposite have brought against the Press; and I am very pleased to think that as a result of the report of the Royal Commission the critics of the Press, in this House and out of it, have had a crushing defeat.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
The report of the Royal Commission must be the most magnificently successful thing of its kind, because it has satisfied not only the Press, who feel themselves fully vindicated, but satisfied also those of my hon. Friends who may be thought to have played some part in bringing about the Inquiry. I must declare my interest. For nine years I have been chairman of the "Birmingham Town Crier," that well-known 90-year-old provincial organ. Although my knowledge of the profession is somewhat amateur in comparison with that of my professional colleagues, I do know a little about the business.
I have listened with considerable interest to the talk about monopoly. No one could fail to be sympathetic to the small journal in Inverness, which we have been told is fighting for its life against a giant competitor. No one could fail to be moved by the story of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). But I think that in this matter we have to be somewhat objective. Is it better that a newspaper should go bankrupt and that the district should be denied the service of a newspaper, or it is better that a chain should take it over? That is a problem which does occur occasionally, and in this matter we must be fair.
I did not support the demand for the setting up of a Royal Commission on the Press. I thought that some of the innuendoes which were flying about were rather hysterical and unfounded, and that any remedies which might be proposed for the supposed diseases from which the Press was said to be suffering could only be worse than the disease. But I think now that I was mistaken and that, in the light of the report, I ought to have supported the demand for a Royal Commission to be set up, because there can be no doubt that the report is of a most reassuring character.
2773 I want to talk about the complaint that the Press does not show objectivity. This is a matter in which we have to be realists. Just as political parties are the instruments of certain forces within the State, so are newspapers. Nobody buys the "Daily Telegraph" expecting to see the leader critical of Tory policy and eulogistic of the policy of the present Government—of course not. Nobody expects objectivity from the "Daily Worker." The "Daily Worker" would gladly reduce the living standards of the people of this country to a coolie standard if they thought that would help holy Russia. Is the "Daily Herald" objective? Of course it is not objective. No one expects the "Daily Herald" to take a point of view hostile to the Government and favourable to the Tory Party. Let us be honest and realist in this matter.
In my own paper, the "Birmingham Town Crier," we print full reports of the proceedings of the Birmingham City Council. I say quite frankly that if we did not give a considerable amount of space to our own local Labour councillors they would think we were "barmy." Of course we always report the proceedings in the best possible light from the point of view of the Labour Party. The Tories do it and I think it is a healthy thing that these partisan matters should be put forward vigorously by partisans. It is the essence of our social democracy and if we ever tried to set up a body charged with the task of seeing that Lord Beaver-brook and the chairman of the "Birmingham Town Crier" presented events in a severely impartial manner, it would make Little Lord Fauntleroys of us both. That would be a very bad thing.
Having established that in my view it is a good thing that the frontiers between the newspapers should be defined and are defined and that, generally speaking, people get from a newspaper what they expect to get, I turn to the Press Council. I am not against a Press Council; I think it might be a good thing. I have flirted with the idea that a smaller body, perhaps consisting of myself, representing the citizenry, the chairman of the "Birmingham Town Crier" representing the Press, and the hon. Member for Wednesbury, representing Parliament, might be better.
It may not be a bad thing that a Press Council should be set up but this move must emanate from within the industry and, contrary to the view of my hon. 2774 Friends the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and others who have spoken, I am dead against lay members. I am dead against lay members because I think the effect of 20 per cent. lay members would be to sanctify already existing privilege at the same time as it created divided responsibility. Unless the Press can be induced to set up this body voluntarily and to give it full support, we had better leave it alone. I certainly think it would be a bad thing for the Government to start tampering with it, because it is not only necessary that there should be freedom of the Press, but also very necessary that there should appear to be freedom of the Press.
As people think there is no smoke without fire, I think it better that there should be a continued risk of distortion and suppression than that the first steps towards regimentation should be suspected. I do not think these five-and-twenty office boys all in a row, devoid of any statutory powers—and I am not in favour of giving them statutory powers—would have any influence at all on the present proprietors of the Press. I have always been against elaborate and expensive facades. It is a bad mistake to make meaningless gestures, and unless this proposed Press Council is armed with teeth by those at present responsible for the conduct of the Press that is what it would be—a meaningless facade concealing the reality beneath.
A body of this kind will not have much influence on the political content of newspapers but it could do a lot in the matter of the ethical standards now being observed by a section of the Press, especially the Sunday Press. Parts of our Sunday Press are a disgrace. I have a girl who is still at school and she takes the "Pictorial." The recent "Sunday Pictorial" articles are real "stinkers." Who went to bed with whom and how many times, is no sort of Sunday morning breakfast reading for young girls and boys. The Press should be sufficiently big to discipline itself in a matter of this kind and put an end to the printing of this pernicious nonsense. The Press Council might well do something useful in that line.
Two years ago I was in South America and I had a chat with various editors there. I shall never forget what the editor 2775 of the most prominent Bogota newspaper said to me when I walked out and we shook hands. He said, "My friend, we are the 'Manchester Guardian' of Latin America." The whole of the Press must seek to make itself worthy to achieve and deserve such high praise.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Cooper-Key (Hastings)
In declaring my interest as a director of Associated Newspapers, I do not claim to possess the experience which so many hon. Members have of the industry. During this Parliament, however, there has been so much abuse of certain newspapers and their publishers that I am very glad indeed to have an opportunity of saying a few words in this Debate. The Press is one of the institutions of this country, and I believe that it is healthy that the institutions of the country should from time to time come under public examination.
Two years ago, when the proposal was made to set up this Commission, I voted against it. I did so for two reasons. First, I knew that the accusations and wild remarks made about the Press were inaccurate and without foundation. Secondly, I realised that the Motion originated entirely from political motives and not from any concern in regard to the standards of the Press or the interests of the public. One of the duties of newspapers is to criticise the Government. In return all Governments claim that that criticism is inaccurate and prejudiced. But this Government are trying to put over a revolution with not even a majority of the electorate behind them and they are bound to receive harsh treatment in the expression of public opinion.
I should like to join with those who have congratulated the Commission on their work. The Report is impartial, well written, and above all readable. But only a few thousand people will buy the 6s. book, and far fewer will have the time or interest to study the 4 lb. volume of evidence. It is clear that both accusers and accused can derive some justification for their case amongst this vast mass of material. However, the public is assured that their Press is not corrupt; no sinister or hidden financial interest controls it; there is no dangerous monopoly. The Commission finds that those responsible 2776 for producing their newspapers are confirmed in their public responsibility, and the British Press is inferior to none. We all know that there are instances of distortion, omission and suppression. But this is inherent in the partisan spirit in which we conduct our democracy. It is also inevitable that when newspapers are small and more news has to be put into the wastepaper basket, or spiked, than goes into the paper, there must be many inaccuracies.
But upon what standard of truth, impartiality and accuracy is the Press to be judged? By the speeches of the Minister of Health, or those of the learned Attorney-General? By the evidence given by the mover and seconder of the Motion two years ago? By the election addresses of Members of Parliament? Really, in the last four years more words have been eaten by Ministers on the Government Front Bench than in any other similar period in history. With those standards and criteria it is not for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to accuse the Press of failure in their public duty, still less of prostitution.
In point of fact the Commission repeated and emphasised, but did not find the solution to the eternal dilemma which faces editors and Members of Parliament alike; the moral problem of feeding a comparatively simple public with what it wants, and at the same time keeping faith with true values, the values of truth, decency and justice. It is true that some newspapers give the public everything it wants and enjoy enormous sales and circulations. Others show some discrimination; but all in all, the Press of the country carries out its duty in a free enterprise society in offering the public a wide freedom of choice in newspapers.
I wish to say one or two things about the recommendations of the Commission. The Commission was, in fact, instructed to make recommendations, and it did so. But a speech by Sir George Waters after the Commission had made its Report needs, I consider, remarking upon. He thought that "through the Council the Press of the nation could speak with one voice." He urged that the freedom of the Press would thus be better safeguarded. I submit this is a very dangerous interpretation of the Council. 2777 The very independence and strength of the Press lies in the fact that even on matters of national and international importance, it never speaks with one voice.
One might inquire what is in the mind of Sir George Waters? What will be this voice? Will it say who shall write for newspapers and who shall not; who shall buy newspapers, and sell them, or start them? Will it issue directions and evoke sanctions? Will it answer the telephone? Could one get on the telephone and speak to it, and ask it out to lunch, and fix some little detail that is going wrong with the Government of the day? I think that those whose task it is to examine the proposal should be extremely circumspect in interpreting the Council as a potential voice of the Press.
The Press has a special duty in regard to two modern problems. First, the relationship of this House to the nation. There is a tendency to pervert the old meaning of "democracy" at the present time; to pervert it to mean Government by and for the best organised pressure groups. Secondly, in regard to the relationship of the State with the individual, there is the duty to protect minority interests and to safeguard the individual from the insolence and greed of the State, and for this it is vital that we should have not only a free Press but a powerful one.
I now come to the suggestion contained in the Report, in paragraphs 601, 602 and 603, regarding the supply of newsprint. Here is an opportunity for the Government to take their part in carrying out the recommendations contained in the Commission's Report. We cannot possibly have a successful and a prosperous provincial Press unless more paper is made available at really low and competitive prices, and I hope that whoever replies for the Government will give us information about what the Government's intentions are on that matter.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
As he very properly declared at the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Cooper-Key) has a financial interest in newspapers, and he therefore naturally spoke as he did. We thought he did it very nicely, but I need not dwell long on his speech because the readers of certain 2778 newspapers tomorrow will certainly have a fuller opportunity of studying it than they will have of studying the speeches of some hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House.
Because it consists of two words of one syllable, the phrase "hands off" is always good for the headlines in the popular Press, and, therefore, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), whose intervention was one of the first that really livened up what had hitherto been a rather tepid Debate, has earned himself his corner of the headlines. I do not think that there was much in his speech besides headline material. He indulged in the often-reiterated fallacy that the solution of these abuses and problems of the Press is perfectly simple: the readers can, after all, stop buying the newspapers. It is one of those utterly unrealistic truisms like the famous one about the Ritz Hotel being open to rich and poor alike.
Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), I thought, devoted some of his time to attacking a dummy—a target that had not really been put up at all. He ridiculed those who demanded complete objectivity and impartiality in the Press. I do not think anybody has ever demanded that, any more than those on this side of the House have ever alleged that the Press of this country was corrupt, or widely corrupt. Of course the Press cannot be impartial or objective, especially not in its editorials and leading articles; what we do complain of is that an excessive amount of bias and tendentious reporting creeps into news reports which purport to be factual. That is not in the least a party political accusation. That applies to newspapers of the Left and of the Right alike.
I say here once more to hon. Members opposite that the fact that this proposal, this campaign, was initiated by a number of hon. Members who are Socialists and sit on this side of the House is not evidence that it is a partisan political campaign, as has been alleged. It is merely due to the accident that, as Mr. E. J. Robertson, the general manager of the Express Newspapers, said in evidence to the Royal Commission:Most journalists are Labour—all the best ones, anyway.2779 If an absolutely impartial spectator had been listening to our Debate today, I think he would have observed a certain selectivity in the quotations from the Royal Commission's Report that have been offered by speakers from both sides of the House. In fact, the Report seems to be one of those classic ambiguous documents, like the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, in which Catholics and Puritans alike could find the doctrine that seemed pleasing to them. Opposition speakers have welcomed the supposed "vindication" of the Press generally which the Report provides. Speakers on this side of the House have quoted some of the many hard things said in the Report about the Press.
In parentheses, I would observe that it is particularly noticeable that, whereas the Commission in general maintained an extraordinarily bland and Epicurean god-like aloofness in considering these appalling indiscretions, abuses and libels, when they themselves were stung by that news-story in the "Observer" they at once became very much less bland and more severe in their attitude.
Then hon. Gentlemen opposite have pointed with glee to the Report's finding that chain ownership had not yet become a menace; whereas we on this side of the House have been able, with equal satisfaction, to point out that the Commission consider that it would be deplorable if the chains were any further extended; so that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) indicated, it is really just as well that we had the Royal Commission set up at this stage—"in the nick of time," to use his phrase.
There was also some reference to the Report's vindication of the independence of editors, whereas what the Commission really said was merely that "a new kind of paper" had grown up requiring "a new kind of editor," which is exactly, in much more polite and genteel language, what we had said about some of the editors of some of the popular newspapers. I do not think that anybody could have read without complete conviction and delight those passages in the evidence given by Lord Kemsley and Lord Beaverbrook touching on this subject. There was Lord Kemsley's picture of the conference of experts who are to provide the background policy for the 2780 unfortunate London and local editors who cannot be expected to "grapple" with this kind of thing. Poor old Delane and Scott—always grappling! Then there is Lord Beaverbrook's wonderful reply to the Commission when they asked him what happened at his free-for-all editorial conferences if one of his editors disagreed with him about some aspect of policy. He replied grimly: "I talked them out of it."
§ Mr. Driberg
Certainly, a great deal—and I never hesitate to pay tribute to him personally, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well, especially if he remembers my observations in the previous Debate.
To my mind, we have been absolutely justified in the proposal we made by the general tenor of the Report. Whatever partial vindication it may have offered on some of the matters which we criticised, the condition of the Press is in fact found by this high-powered and not Left-wing Commission to be such that, in the view of the Commission, the serious step has to be taken of setting up a Press Council to keep an eye on the Press and to try, if possible, to improve it. I was glad to hear that the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) on the whole seemed to endorse that proposal.
I particularly appreciated and agreed with the serious closing passage of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It was, as it were, a welsh rarebit after a meal which seemed, like so many of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, to consist too exclusively of raspberry Melba. He spoke of the triviality and sensationalism of the Press. That is true, but I am inclined to think that that aspect of it will be rather more difficult for the Press Council to deal with than merely factual distortions. Questions of taste are obviously extremely difficult for such a body to deal with.
I do not entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Mr. Baldwin's Act which prohibited the reporting of evidence in divorce cases. He said that on the whole it had been a useful or a successful reform. I would venture to point out that it has been to some extent nullified, because it is only the evidence the reporting of which was forbidden and newspapers are still 2781 allowed to report fully the judge's summing-up, which necessarily often quotes details of evidence which might have been thought harmful by those who originally propose this reform. To some extent, therefore, it has not been quite so useful a reform as it has been thought to be.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with this difficult question of what the public wants, and to what extent the Press is bound to give the public what it wants. I would point, in contrast with the Press, to the B.B.C. The B.B.C.'s policy, from its earliest days under Lord Reith, has always been not to give the public precisely what it wants, or is thought to want, but to give it something slightly better than it thinks it wants. The result of that policy has been, as I think is generally agreed in one respect at any rate, a tremendous improvement over the last 20 or 30 years in the musical taste and appreciation of the people. It is perfectly true that the B.B.C. is a monopoly; but I think it is largely because the B.B.C. is non-commercial, rather than because it is a monopoly, that it has been able to adopt this policy. One of the difficulties and dangers of commercial competition is that it does seem to drive newspapers to pander to the lower kinds of taste. One of the saddest passages in the Commission's proceedings was in the evidence given by the chairman of the "News of the World," who said that the number of serious political articles published in that newspaper had been deliberately cut down because they had "seen so many circulations suffer by an undue proportion of serious political articles being contained in small papers."
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) started by saying that the Report had blown sky-high some of our allegations; but he then went on himself to confirm from his own experience many of the allegations we had made. I was glad to hear him pay a sincere tribute to the Government for their absolute impartiality in the distribution of advertisements in the newspapers, and for never attempting, as we believe many advertisers have in the past, to exercise as advertisers any unfair pressure on editorial policy. Those of us who say that there is advertising influence on editorial policy have always qualified that by pointing out that that was truer prewar than when newspapers are small 2782 owing to the rationing of newsprint. That danger may be expected to revive if newsprint becomes more readily available.
In my view the Report has various deficiencies. I must skate hurriedly over them, because I have promised to end within the next few minutes, but one of its chief deficiencies seems to me to be the somewhat uncritical acceptance by the Commission of comfortable assurances from some of their witnesses. They seemed a little more inclined to believe, as it were, the witnesses for the defence rather than the witnesses for the prosecution, the employer rather than the employee. That is probably congenital in such a Commission.
Almost every Member who has spoken has quoted the Report's remark that the Press of this country is "inferior to none in the world." That is, incidentally, one of the statements for which, so far as I could ascertain, the Commission took no evidence at all. It may be true—I hope it is—but it is, of course, typical of that kind of insular complacency in us in this country which so infuriates foreigners. It may be true; but I would point out, in regard to one very important aspect of news, that the "New York Herald-Tribune's" coverage of international news is so outstandingly superior to that of most English newspapers that thousands of serious students in this country have to subscribe to its European edition to keep themselves properly informed.
That brings me to one of the gravest defects in the Commission's proceedings—that they shirked the responsibility of investigating the Press at the very point at which the misleading of the public can be most dangerous and most difficult for the public to detect—that is to say, in the region of foreign affairs and international news. They said they had had no research done in this subject because of the "difficulty of ascertaining the facts of a given situation." In my view, the most serious example of Government influence on editorial policy—which everybody says does not exist, and how terrible it would be if it did, and for which the newspapers are as much to blame as the Government—is the uncritical acceptance by most editors and diplomatic correspondents of Foreign Office handouts. The Report condemned the "Daily Worker" on this point, but 2783 every other paper is equally guilty of tendentious reporting of foreign news.
I apologise for running over my time a little. I end by saying—and I would have liked to say much more—that the Report is good as far as it goes, and as good as could be expected. I think it most regrettable that Mr. J. B. Priestley felt obliged to leave the Commission in its early stages. I do not think that he, for instance, would have let my friend Mr. Frank Owen get away with it so easily, on those questions about the "White List," as the simpler members of the Commission did. It is obviously desirable that the Press Council should be voluntary. The experience of a somewhat similar body in New South Wales, however, is that it may not be very effective unless it is statutory. If the Press shows itself disinclined to set up a body voluntarily, with lay representation, then we shall have to press the Government to consider the matter further on the lines indicated by my right hon. Friend the Lord President this afternoon.
The Press does not, of course, operate in a vacuum. In a society whose values are largely base or shoddy, the Press will be base and shoddy also. I hope most earnestly that the setting up of this Council may contribute something to the re-establishment of the true freedom of the Press and the establishment, for the first time in our society, of some truer values.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
May I first of all offer to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) a small consolation for the two more plaintive of his grievances? In the first place, he mentioned that my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Cooper-Key) might have more space for his speech in a certain organ of the Press. I would remind the hon. Member of paragraph 437 of the Report, which shows that during a month when a count was taken of the "Daily Herald," the proportion was 74 per cent. Labour and 23 per cent. Conservative. So there is a smaller chance of any space being found for my remarks. The other point about which the hon. Member gnashed his teeth was the withdrawal of Mr. Priestley from the Commission. I would remind the hon. Member by way of 2784 consolation that before he withdrew Mr. Priestley gave us a non-judicial condemnation of a case, of which he had not heard half, and when the hon. Gentleman puts that against his absence, he will remember that Mr. Priestley would have been at the disadvantage of having heard all the evidence before making his utterances.
The hon. Member for Maldon and his three colleagues have received a great set-back in this Report. I want to deal in a short space of time with points which have been referred to in this Debate. I want to make this my first point. When the hon. Member for South-West Sit. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) originally brought this matter before the House nearly three years ago, the gravamen of his complaint was the structure of the Press and the management which resulted from it. The hon. Gentleman put it in a very clear sentence when he said:Can we or can we not have real freedom of the Press in a system of combines and chain newspapers?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428; c. 455.]That was a matter which was stressed in advance in the terms of reference, and on which the attack has sustained substantial and heavy defeat.
Anyone who takes a general view of our discussion today cannot say other than that the main weight of our discussion has shifted from financial arrangements and managements to performance. Once we have got to performance, as the Lord President of the Council said in quoting from Sir George Waters, we get to the human factor, which involves not only those who finance and manage the newspapers but those who write and those who read. It depends on the effect which both reader and writer have on the contents of the Press. Therefore, it is remarkable and we must bear it in mind, that when hon. Gentlemen ask for an inquiry and stress the need for it, emphasising the management and financial background, it must also lead to an examination of performance and the failure of the human factor in that regard.
I shall deal with the points which the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) put as being matters which he had established and were contrary to what I had said on the last occasion. With regard to the concentration of ownership, I noticed that he omitted the point made by the Commission that chains have preserved 2785 newspapers and have even run them at a loss in order to keep them going. He ignored that point in his selection of facts. Everyone has ignored it. None of the hon. Gentlemen who put forward the charge, not the Lord President of the Council who put it forward in clear terms in the previous Debate, dealt with it. There has been no repetition of the allegation that central control of chain newspapers has had a bad effect. That is very remarkable. I do not want to get down to the special points. I will try to look at the Debate as a whole, but that was one of the major points put last time.
The right hon. Gentleman said that policy and editorials were imposed, and that direction from London was bad. All that has been disproved by the Commission. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) shakes his head. May I give him the run of the thing on that point? It is:We do not think that the tendency to uniformity among the members of a chain is as great as has been suggested. The critics overlooked the wide differences between the five principal chains, and … attributed to chains as such the shortcomings which they believed they detected there. In fact, however, chain ownership does not necessarily produce uniformity or even similarity in the papers. … We were impressed by the importance which the chains attached to maintaining the local tradition of their papers and by the degree of practical independence, particularly in local affairs, which the chain editors … appeared to enjoy.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman went on and cut off some of my time. He must not hold it against me if I do not give way to him. I usually do give way. On that point it is not a question of merely making a selection but of taking the whole run of the report, which disproves all the criticism which the hon. Gentleman made. May I remind him, in order to be fair, that the Commission dealt with the point that during the period of the war, when there was a shortage of contributors in certain subjects, there was some syndicating of articles to the provinces? Apart from that, the Commission give a clear deliverance on that point.
The second point which was made was with regard to the question of local monopoly. Again, I am sure that the 2786 hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have to take these points shortly although I should like to develop them more fully. I do not want to occupy time unnecessarily. Again, I put the point to him whether the Commission were saying that there was danger in local monopoly. The Commission make their view clear that all local monopolies encounter the competition of national dailies; that all but 20 encounter the competition of one or more provincial dailies which operate in the same area but not in the same towns; that.24 compete with independent weeklies, and that in that way we have always to take the position as subject to the competition which exists.
Hon. Gentlemen will appreciate that this is not a question, such as we discussed under the Monopolies Act, of limiting production by restrictive practices or the like. The mischief complained of here is whether the limitation of public discussion of local affairs exists or whether a particular proprietor provides his views to the exclusion of others. Although the matter is said to be one on which the proposed council might keep an eye, it is subject to these two things, first of all, the existing competition, and secondly, the statement in the report that there was nothing approaching monopoly in the Press as a whole or, with the single exception of a London financial daily, in any class of newspaper or in the classes of periodical which the Commission had examined.
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that if he considers these different but cognate portions of the report, he must agree that although they use the term "local monopoly," according to a dictionary they have invented for themselves and which is convenient, to say that this is a Report asserting that there is local monopoly in any ordinary sense of that term is simply avoiding the actualities of the Report.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
What about the 58 towns in which the Commission reports that there is an absolute local monopoly?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have dealt with those, and I gave the numbers of the towns where they had to face the forms of competition of which I have spoken. The hon. Gentleman will find 2787 that I am right. However, we shall not bicker at this moment as to who has interpreted it aright.
The other point with which I want to deal is the suggestion of the hon. Member for Devonport that I was wrong and that practically everyone but himself and his friends were wrong on the question of accuracy and distortion. Let us see first of all what the complaint is. It is best put according to the general view of the Commission in paragraph 553, where they say:We found some evidence of willingness to be satisfied at what at best corresponds only roughly to the truth and of readiness to make statements on inadequate evidence.That fairly expresses the approach. There are two points. I do not want to take time on one of them because hon. Gentleman are so much more familiar with it than I am, and that is the nature of a newspaper and the problems of the time for getting it out, apart from the current problem of the shortage of newsprint, which means that there must be suppression by compression at present.
I merely leave these points, but I ask the hon. Member for Devonport, the hon. Member for Maldon, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) and their friend, Mr. Percy Cudlipp of the "Daily Herald," just to take the examples which are quoted in paragraph 646 as to these hon. Gentlemen's statements on particular subjects within their own experience to the Commission. With regard to the hon. Member for Devonport and the hon. Member for Maldon, I take the question of the black list.
The hon. Member for Devonport selected Paul Robeson, Clare Luce, the Emperor Haile Selassie and Sir Thomas Beecham. The last two had brought two libel actions against the paper which naturally makes them rather dubious about reference. The first was mentioned 26 times during the hon. Gentleman's period and the last, as I understand it, 12 times under the name of Clare Luce and 86 times under the name of Clare Boothe Luce. The hon. Member for Maldon was even more unlucky if one tried to be numerical. His instances were Gilbert Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and the 2788 late Lord Baldwin. Mr. Gilbert Chesterton had been mentioned 69 times, Mr. Belloc nine times but the late Lord Baldwin had no mention in 3,719 column inches in the "Express" as opposed to 414 in "The News Chronicle." If that is the best the hon. Gentleman for Maldon can do in the way of alleged exclusion, then he had better go and get his ideas of evidence adjusted.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
They are all in the Report. Mr. Percy Cudlipp was almost equally unsuccessful. He chose Michael Arlen and Lord Elibank. To Michael Arlen there were 150 references and to Lord Elibank 105 references. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) has begun to look a little angry. Let me remind him of what happened to Mr. Francis Williams, who drew attention to the fact that the film critic of "The Daily Herald" was supposed to have pulled his punches because of offence to advertisers, and "The Daily Herald" film critic came forward and gave the most emphatic evidence that it had never happened and showed his criticisms, which proved that fact.
If three hon. Members of this House and the editor of the paper of the Party opposite, when they are marshalling their facts in order to indict those they dislike, cannot obtain greater proof than that, and when they begin to talk, with hands piously held up in horror, about journalists acting on inaccurate information, I say, search your hearts for hypocrisy before pursuing that course.
The same remarks could be made and the same case deployed on the question of political bias, but hon. Gentlemen opposite have pursued that point already. Of course it is easy for anyone to slip into the attitude, as Doctor Johnson put it, that he did not like to see the Whig dogs have the best of it. That is bound to influence anyone's mind. I ask that we all, and everyone in the Press, do their best, while keeping that robust outlook, to try to give some idea of what the Whig dog is thinking if they do not give all his words.
I should like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) said on the other aspect of the matter, that of sensationalism, in the course of a speech which I 2789 hope he will allow an old friend to say was one of the most brilliant he has made in this House. That aspect is one which we have also to consider, because, as my right hon. Friend said, there we come right up against the joint problem of reader and writer which is so difficult to solve. I would add my voice to his: I ask the Press, recognising the difficulty of these points, to find a way off their own bat, on their own volition, for dealing with the difficulties which have been pointed out; and I am sure that they will win not only the respect, but the affection of their readers in the country as a whole if they pursue that path.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) for keeping to the arrangement that we made about time as far as the end of his speech was concerned; and I regret that I had no control over the beginning of it. He and I both felt that the opening speeches, of necessity, had been somewhat long and that we would endeavour to ensure that the back benchers had as much time as we could possibly give them in order that as many speeches as possible should be made.
The problem of the relationship between this House and the Press, of course, is a very old one. Some of our predecessors of a hundred years ago are probably turning over in their graves at the attitude adopted by both sides of the House tonight towards the Press, for the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said that the Liberals had never interfered with the Press; but, at any rate, the Whigs prosecuted William Cobbett. Of course, William Cobbett managed to get, as usual, into trouble from both sides, but whereas the Tories did manage to get a verdict of "Guilty" and inflicted a fine of £1,000, the jury disagreed when the Whigs prosecuted him.
This problem of the relationship of the Press to authority in the country—in the world, in fact—has been one of the great problems of the last 350 years. We are marking a very considerable step forward today in the attitude that has been adopted on both sides with regard to the desirability of non-interference with the Press and the recognition that the 2790 Press is entitled to a point of view and is entitled to express it polemically. There is no controversy between either side of the House on that, but the recognition of that right calls from the Press for a recognition of responsibility in the discharge of that right. That was why I welcomed, if I may be allowed to say so, the closing passages of the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) and the closing sentence or two of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, for if that be the fundamental of the relationship between the Press and the public, and the Press and authority, it is a very good thing that it should be understood in the country at large that on that issue there is a unanimity of opinion in the House that should carry very considerable weight.
I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for North Cumberland about the sceptical attitude of the public towards factual reports in the Press. I think that people are very sceptical indeed sometimes about the facts, and that if somebody says that he read what he is asserting in particular organs of the Press it is apt, at any rate in plebeian circles, to excite some derision.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not dealing now with statements in this House, but with statements in the Press. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, there is also a healthy scepticism, which I rejoice to see, in regard to all pronouncements which are made pontifically, especially those which have no other claim to credence than the seniority of the utterer.
There have been some matters that are still controversial, but I cannot help thinking that the authors of this report will feel somewhat reassured in the morning when they find how both sides say that they have managed to prove their case. It is true that some of them think that the jury have added recommendations to mercy, quite unnecessarily, with regard to their opponents, but I think there is a general recognition that this Commission has honestly tried to examine a very difficult subject and to produce a report that shall be of help to the country and of guidance to that great institution, the Press. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) said, exceedingly lucky that we did arrange for 2791 the appointment of this Commission at the exact moment that chain ownership had reached the limits of what is desirable, for it is quite clear that if it was really as good as some hon. Members opposite have tried to make out, there would have been no reason to suggest placing a limitation now on the growth of this tendency.
Of course, the classic plea for the liberty of the Press was that addressed to this House just over 300 years ago and I want to analyse the present position and the case put today on the basis of the claim that was then made.Give me the liberty."—said Milton,—to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.Now the Press rightly claims the right to utterance and to argument freely according to conscience. There have been suggestions that we ought perhaps to inquire as to whose conscience it should be, but that is the claim of the Press and, as far as we are concerned, we concede it, but Milton was particularly careful in the choice of the order in which he put his liberties, and the first liberty was the liberty to know. That is the liberty of the subject which he can best get through a Press which discharges its true liberties conscientiously. The right to knowledge in this community is now very largely in the control of the Press.
I do not complain that they do not report me, for I do not have to think up a second speech. Those of my right hon. Friends who get about half a column regularly every Sunday morning, of course, have to think up a fresh speech for the next week-end. But, I will say that I have never had any complaint about what the Press have done with my speeches when they have reported them. In fact, I congratulate them on sometimes making sense out of somewhat confusing utterances. I think that on the whole the reporting is good and we recognise that at the moment selectivity has to be maintained because of the shortage of newsprint. But what the public has the right to get from the Press is that it shall be quite clear in the newspaper how much of a report is fact and how much is the opinion of the paper concerned. There are passages in the Appendices of this Report which indicate that on occasion 2792 the Press have not enabled their readers to know as accurately as they could have allowed them to know exactly what are the true facts.
Let us not be unduly condemnatory. The Press have been living through a very difficult time, but it is essential, if this country is to be a really enlightened democracy, that the facts should be available and that the facts and the opinions—opinions which the Press have a perfect right to express—shall be so separated that the reader, the ordinary wayfaring man who reads as he runs, may know when he is reading fact and when he is reading opinion.
I very much doubt whether in these days people read leading articles as much as they used to do. I know that in my boyhood days my father subscribed to the "Daily Telegraph" and the "Daily News." He believed in the "Daily News" but he thought that the leading article in the "Daily Telegraph" was a good thing from which I should learn to read. I am quite certain that in those days opinions were read and editors had a very great part to play in the forming of public opinion in this country. I doubt whether there are now more than three or four papers, in England at any rate, which really influence people's opinions through their leading articles in the way that most of the papers of those days were able to influence people's opinions. I would not complain if great journalists, honestly applying themselves to their profession, could again get for the editor of the paper the position he then occupied, for it is desirable that there should be in this country the skilled advocates of all varieties of honest opinions, and it is the crowning infamy of the dictators that that was what they destroyed.
Let us realise that modern popular education with all its limitations, is a great deal more vulnerable to mass appeal than any previous generation in this country. Let me just quote a couple of sentences from the work of Milton from which I have previously quoted. He said:And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?
§ Mr. Ede
That is the basis of the whole of my right hon. Friend's political thought. If the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) only knew of some checking off I had some few days ago on this very issue, his appreciation of my right hon. Friend would rise to the most tremendous heights. Dictatorship did destroy the opportunity of truth getting into the field.
§ Mr. Ede
I would remind the right hon. Member that I did make an arrangement with the right hon. Gentleman and I do not want to break it. Dictatorship destroyed that, and it would be the most fatal thing if the same thing happened in this country. But I agree very thoroughly with the right hon. Member for West Bristol in thinking that we have to look first to our educational system to provide us with the bulwark against distortion, triviality and sensationalism. I am not at all sure sometimes that the last two, in the way they divert public attention from great issues, are not enemies that we ought to place quite as high as dictatorship when it comes to the management of a free country like this.
May I give a personal example? The House will recollect that I was sitting on this Bench one day last year when news was brought that my wife had passed away. I went straight home. I had not been in the house five minutes before one daily newspaper had a representative there to ask if I had any statement to make. I would not have believed that any other human being would have thought that an intrusion at such a time would stand up to any standard of decency. And we all know that from time to time that kind of thing is done. That is the kind of thing which tends to bring the Press into disrepute.
One great recommendation of this Report which has excited controversy in the House is the question of a Press Council. I hope that the Press will feel it is in their own interests that they should take such steps of their own initiative as will enable a reasonable standard of conduct to be set and maintained, not with any statutory sanction behind it, but with a recognition that they hold the great responsibility of allowing 2794 what is still the greatest democracy in the world to have the knowledge that will enable it to conduct the affairs of its own nation and take its part in the affairs of the world in a way that will be based on knowledge and a feeling that the facts placed before it can be relied upon.
I think that is the great lesson to be learned from the work of this Commission. Whether in the course of history some people will feel that allegations made were proved or not proved, I think is small compared with that. The Debate today has shown that this House has no desire to interfere with a responsible Press in this country, but we ask the Press to realise that we and they together have the great task of seeing that this people is adequately informed, so that it can discharge the great duty that falls upon it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House, having taken into consideration the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press (Cmd. 7700) would welcome all possible action on the part of the Press to give effect to the Commission's conclusions and recommendations.