§ In Title, line 4, at end add
'and to provide for a charter on matters relating to the freedom of the press'.—[Mr. Booth.]
§ 3.53 p.m
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question Amendment No. 1, in line 13, leave out from 'journalists' to end of line 15 and insert:'including the right of journalists not to be unreasonably excluded or expelled from trade unions and to belong to the union of their choice and the right of editors to discharge their duties free from any obligation to join a trade union, the right of editors to commission and to publish or refuse to publish any material, and the assurance (subject only to editorial discretion) of access to the press of all contributors at all times.'.
§ Mr. Speaker
With the amendment it will be convenient to take the following amendments to the Question:
No. 7, in line 64, at end add—
'( ) In this section—
editor" includes any deputy of such editor;
material" includes any matter printed or intended for printing or broadcast or intended for broadcasting by television or radio'.
No. 8, in line 64, at end add—
( ) A charter agreed as mentioned in subsection (1) above, or prepared by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (3) above, shall provide that no member of any trade union shall be fined, expelled from any union, prevented or suspended from holding office in any union or be otherwise penalised or victimised by reason of the fact that he had refused to strike or work to rule or had continued to work on any occasion.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a hypothetical question. I see no reason why not at the moment, but I do not give a promise ahead on a matter of that sort.
§ Mr. Prior
In the past 18 months we have had several debates on this issue and we return to it today. Although some 1352 of the Press publicity on the controversy has died, the issue is just as important now as it was on the first day it was raised. As was said in a recent leading article in the Sun—freedom of speech is not something that belongs to editors. It belongs to everyone.As the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) said in an article in The Times in February 1975,The free flow of information and ideas is more important to our society that any number of jobs in the newspaper industry. To pass a Bill which makes that freedom dependent on the goodwill of a union whose interests it conflicts with is to put it criminally at risk.The amendments give a further opportunity for the House to discuss whether there should be written into the charter as it now appears further safeguards to protect an aggrieved person. I should like to take the House through some of the reasons which underlie the amendments.
A person who refuses to join a particular union specified in a membership agreement between union and employer can be dismissed without any statutory redress. That will be the position once the Bill is passed. He will have a right to go to the TUC Appeal Review Committee but no clear legal right against his employer.
That same situation could have pertained before 1971, but in fact it did not. There were a few closed shops—particularly in the newspaper industry—but not many. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett)—I am sorry he is not here—in referring to associated membership of the National Union of Journalists, said that, although editors and associated members could be called out on strike, in practice they were not. There is a real fear that if the NUJ obtained a monopoly amongst working journalists it would seek to force managements to agree to a closed shop by means of a threat of strike action and, once it had achieved a closed shop, would exercise control over what could or could not be published, access of people outside the Press to write articles and 1353 access by certain journalists who were not full-time and not prepared to join. That is the position we fear would be created.
These fears are not grounded just on hearsay or on hypothetical cases. They have arisen in the last few years when we have seen outside contributors prevented from placing articles in newspapers although the editor has agreed to their publication. One of my hon. Friends who does a good deal of writing for the Press asked to become a member of the NUJ but was told that he could not do so because his main source of income was not from journalism. He then proved that he earned more from being a journalist than he did as a Member of Parliament. He was still denied the right to belong to the NUJ.
Therefore, it is enormously unsatisfactory that the situation should be left as it is. The real question we have to answer is "Does this constitute such an important limitation and threat to the freedom of the Press that special safeguards are required?" or, as the Secretary of State and Labour Members with some exceptions have said so far, "Should this be left to the good sense of the National Union of Journalists because in any case to try to introduce the law into this area could be self-defeating?" That is a fair interpretation of the two climates of opinion about the matter.
The Opposition take the view that the law has a part to play. We are not seeking a wholesale reintroduction of the law as it stood in the Industrial Relations Act 1971. We have made that clear on many occasions. We have said that we believe that the amendments, albeit with perhaps a little tidying up, which were put into the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 were a basis upon which the whole House could unite over the issue of industrial relations. We believe that we should leave the law in that position.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead thinks that the less time the House spends discussing industrial relations the better it will be for industrial relations. I am inclined to agree with him. During the past two years we have sought to reach agreement on industrial relations by which the House could stand for a 1354 number of years. The Opposition have and have always had, strong feelings on two issues—first of all, individual rights within a union membership agreement; second, the freedom of the Press.
In a later suggested amendment to the Bill we deal solely with the problems of an individual's rights within the union membership agreement. However, in these amendments we are concentrating on the part of the Bill which deals with the freedom of the Press. That is why we are moving our main amendment, which is the amendment moved by Lord Goodman in another place. It is an amendment which has undergone a great deal of discussion in this House and in the other place. It was framed after a great deal of thought and after other amendments which went a good deal further had been rejected.
The whole purpose of Lord Goodman's amendment was to get the maximum degree of understanding, and if possible, agreement between those who took the view that the law had no place in this issue and those who took the view that the law must protect the rights of the individual, especially the individual editor within the closed shop situation.
If one looks at line 10 of the proposed new clause one sees that it says thatpractical guidance on matters relating to the freedom of the press must include guidance on the avoidance of improper pressure to distort or suppress news, comment, or criticism, the application of union membership agreements to journalistsand the amendment would go on to add the wordsincluding the right of journalists not to be unreasonably excluded or expelled from trade unions and to belong to the union of their choice and the right of editors to discharge their duties free from any obligation to join a trade union, the right of editors to commission and to publish or refuse to publish any material, and the assurance (subject only to editorial discretion) of access to the press of all contributors at all times.It is inconceivable to me that anyone reading that amendment could object to its contents. I earnestly ask Labour Members to read the amendment and to point out to me one single word with which they disagree. In my view it is reasonable beyond doubt. We must consider that amendment with Amendment No. 6 which adds,(c) any rule, agreement, act or conduct which is contrary to the provisions of the 1355 charter shall be deemed to be contrary to public policy.(d) nothing in the charter shall be taken to restrict or abridge any right existing by statute of common law.When Lord Goodman put the amendment forward in another place, he said:What we have tried to do is produce what we want with the least possible affront to the Government Benches. That is not an entirely simple matter. It has led to the ambiguities and difficulties in which we find ourselves. I make no apology for them. If we can avoid the so-called constitutional confrontation by a little ambiguity and obscurity in drafting, I am all for it. If we can make it clear that we are concerned not to encourage litigation"—I stress this point—but to discourage it, to leave it as the last resort for the man who has no other means of redressing his injury—which is all we want—then, indeed, we shall be entirely satisfied".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3rd November 1975; Vol 365, c. 927.]That seems to be a very conciliatory position for Lord Goodman to adopt and that is the position we are adopting today. We are seeking to try to argue with the Government that this is the right way to deal with the situation.
I turn to what has happened during the long passage of the Bill over the past 18 months. We started by asking that the matter should be referred to the Royal Commission. We had good reasons and good grounds for asking for that. After all, it was none other than Lord Devlin, a former Chairman of the Press Council, who stated:The traditional way of thinking over public affairs is by the appointment of a Royal Commission. As it happens there is already one sitting—the Royal Commission on the Press.Right from the time the Bill was published it seemed to us right that we should leave the discussion of the Bill until the Royal Commission had had a chance to consider it. That is what we asked to happen. At that time we were told "No" because, it was said, the Bill was required so urgently that it was impossible for that course to be pursued. Yet here we are some 15 months later and the Bill has not yet become law.
I do not think anyone can honestly say that the delay has made a great deal of difference to the conduct of industrial relations in the meanwhile. Therefore, it was a nonsense for the Government not to allow the matter to be discussed by 1356 the Royal Commission. Furthermore—this is the extraordinary way in which matters work out—I am told that during the past few days the Royal Commission has sent a note to various editors and papers suggesting that they should now give evidence urgently about their view of this particular part of the Bill. It has been a nonsense, and we should make ourselves look ridiculous if we did not recognise that fact.
However, much to our regret that course was rejected. Even at this stage, especially as the Royal Commission is now interesting itself in this matter, I urge the Secretary of State to have a little more patience, to leave this matter alone for a little longer to allow the Royal Commission to look at it and then to bring whatever conclusions it reaches back to the House. I am certain that such action would greatly help our deliberations.
The next step was that Mr. Alastair Hetherington and others asked for a charter to be drawn up. Again, that was rejected by the Secretary of State who said, at that time, that it was not necessary and that nothing was needed.
Then, in Standing Committee, we proposed an amendment which, when reading it now, seems extraordinarily appropriate. It would have safeguarded the position of someone concerned with the dissemination of news, opinion or information and who genuinely objected to membership of the union on those grounds. That was turned down by the Government.
We have gone out of our way to be as reasonable as possible in our amendments in order to try to attract agreement between the two sides. It was not until the House of Lords, which has no rules of order and therefore was able to deal specifically with the Press case, got hold of the Bill that it was able to write into it a charter which had been rejected in this House. The House of Lords wrote a charter into the Bill and, after much to-ing and fro-ing, we have got a charter and a body to administer it in the way set out in the new clause.
The charter, as it stands, has no powers. The main difference between the two sides is the need for the charter to have powers for redress by an injured party—redress which would strengthen the 1357 hand of the individual against pressures on him by his employers who, in turn, had pressures put on them by the union. A charter with such powers would give strength to the employer to resist union pressure and would give the individual a fair chance of holding his job or of claiming damages if he lost it. The holding of the job is the most important part. Once a man loses his job, once he is thrown out of the union, he cannot get another job in journalism. If a man is thrown out of the union and therefore cannot get another job, he cannot write any more.
This matter was well dealt with in the Financial Times which took three hypothetical cases and examined them in the light of the charter alone, doing nothing, which was the original intention of the Government, or strengthening the charter by the inclusion of the amendments which we are seeking to press today.
First, it illustrated the case of the editor who was told by the National Union of Journalists that he must submit to policy and discipline. The second case referred to the journalist who was expelled from a paper or wished to work on a paper and was not allowed to do so. The third case related to the outside contributor who was blacked because he was not a member of the union or because the union objected to the content of his article.
Following the procedure put before us by the right hon. Gentleman today, it is true that, if a case is taken to the court through the operation of the common law, the court will be able to form an assessment whether the treatment meted out to the particular individual was fair. But all the legal advice available to us from the House of Lords and outside bodies suggests that little is likely to happen as a result of trying to pursue a common law action. That is why we believe that Lord Goodman's suggested words, which are contained in a later amendment, are certainly the minimum required to protect the interests of the editor who is told by the NUJ that he must submit to policy and discipline but refuses to do so. Certainly the journalist who is expelled from a paper or wishes to work on a paper is excluded, and our amendments represent the minimum requirement to protect him in any way whatsoever.
1358 We do not deny that the charter is a step forward, but we think that it is a very weak step forward. By its very creation it breaks the principles enunciated by the Secretary of State throughout the earlier proceedings that these matters are best left entirely to the parties concerned to work out for themselves.
A strengthened charter, together with our Amendment No. 3 dealing with public policy, does not automatically give the charter the force of law, but it leaves the courts to decide. My right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) are sitting behind me. I think that is the way we would expect the law to operate. In fact, an aggrieved person would not go to the courts unless he felt that he had a good case, and it would then be for the courts to decide.
A strengthened charter would also strengthen the hand of the employer who was having pressure put upon him by the union in a case of expulsion or exclusion to say, "No, I shall not respond to your pressure, because, if I do, I think that the aggrieved person will go to the courts and he will have a good case for reinstatement". Therefore, the employer will be able to say that he is not prepared to proceed in that way. That considerably strengthens the position of the editor, or the aggrieved person, who will generally be an editor.
Therefore, after many months—indeed, years—we come back to a situation where the House has not been able to agree on the wording which should go into the Bill. We believe that this is a vital issue. If this House does not concern itself with the freedom of the Press, it really does not concern itself with anything. We are asking that there should be a proper remedy for someone who is put into a position which he feels is against the interests of the freedom which he wishes to support.
I do not believe that this House will be doing its duty unless it writes into the Bill the amendments which we have put down. I do not believe that those amendments can in any way be interpreted as being anti-union or legislation for the sake of legislation. I do not get the impression from talking to trade 1359 unionists that they feel strongly about this matter.
From time to time right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that the law has no place in industrial relations. Yet many of us on this side and a few hon. Members on the other side of the House have spent a good deal of our parliamentry time in the last 18 months passing laws—whether it be the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act or the Employment Protection Act—which legislate the whole time on industrial relations matters.
It is not good enough to say that the law has no place in industrial relations. If, in their early days, the unions had not sought the protection of the law, they would not be the strong forces in society that they are today. They needed the law when they were weak. It would be wrong of them to believe that they could disregard the law now that they are strong. In fairness, I do not believe that is the attitude being taken by the trade unions. Nor do I believe that they are harbouring the view still held by some hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Indsutrial Relations Act was all wrong and that, until it is wiped off the statute book, no sensible industrial relations policy is possible.
The only people who try to keep that argument going are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and they do so for purely political reasons. It is no longer a great bone of contention between the average trade unionist, shop steward and branch official. The evidence for that is readily available. If hon. Gentlemen opposite look at last week's Economist articles containing views collected in a poll carried out within the union membership, including those responsible for running the union, they will see that the vast majority of trade unionists do not take the same view as hon. Gentlemen opposite now take.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain why he said earlier that his party would never reintroduce anything like the Industrial Relations Act but now seems to be telling us that in his view the majority of trade unionists would welcome such legislation? Is it that his party always takes the opposite view to what trade unionists want?
§ Mr. Prior
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening a little more carefully, he would have heard me say that we thought that the best way in which we could help industrial relations was to stand by the Act passed in 1974 in which we were able to include a special provision to aid the position of the individual in a closed shop situation and that, provided that we could get agreement between both sides of the House that that was a fair position, it could then remain the law for a great many years. It has the enormous merit, for us at any rate, that it protects the rights of the individual in what otherwise could be a tryrannical situation. We are now getting cases coming forward day after day of people who feel deeply aggrieved by the action being taken by a small number of unions in certain selected areas.
I believe that we could get agreement on this. It is the minimum amount of law which would be required. At the same time, the Opposition accept that for some time it is the maximum amount of law which should be permitted. But we believe very strongly that these amendments concerned with the freedom of the Press should have support from all parts of the House. I appeal to Government supporters who wish to see the maintenance of a free Press to give us their support. This is too important an issue to be decided on a strict party interpretation after all these months of argument. I appeal to Government supporters to recognise that, with this amendment, we have reached a situation which could be satisfactory to all parts of the House and which would give freedom to the editor and to the outside contributor which we all wish to see maintained.
If our proposal is not acceptable to the Government, I am afraid that we must take it that they place the operation of a closed shop, with the tyranny which can come from the strict interpretation of that, above the importance of a free Press. That is not a situation that we ought to tolerate for one moment.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
I take issue with a number of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), and I begin with his suggestion that this House has not made a decision. I remind him that the majority of Members of this House made a clear-cut decision. It 1361 was the unelected individuals along the Corridor who sent back that decision. They are not elected by anyone. They are not responsible to anyone. However, the elected part of Parliament made a clear-cut decision.
What is more, I am sure that I carry many Government supporters with me when I say that I cannot accept what I regard as the continual nonsense and the recondite reasoning used about the so-called wonderful freedom of the Press. It may be a free Press for employers, for the Tory Party and for the interests of the City. It is completely free to them. However, in a recent publication by my own party it was made clear that,In effect, three large corporations now produce 80 per cent. of all national daily and Sunday newspapers sold in the United Kingdom and, in the overwhelming majority of cities, there is an effective local monopoly of news, sometimes in the same hands as the national press. A free press, therefore, in the sense of a varied or a balanced press is fast disappearing.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the vast capitalist organisations which he criticises are almost all losing money on their newspapers? Who does he think will replace these big bad barons? Does he imagine that the State will take them over?
§ Mr. Thomas
The matter at issue is not whether these newspapers are losing money. It is whether we have a free Press in Britain. That is the main and continuing argument. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft appealed to Government supporters to help his party to sustain the freedom of the Press. We do not accept that there is that freedom of the Press. We do not see any tears among Opposition Members when newspapers close down and journalists are made redundant, resulting in there being fewer and fewer newspapers. We do not hear any arguments defending the freedom of the Press then.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am one of those who are very concerned to see that, in the light of this spurious argument about the freedom of the Press, the Government have given way to some extent to the pressures of the Opposition. These arguments are 1362 used to defend the so-called freedom of the Press, but in my judgment they are really being used in an attempt to deny to a group of workers the collective bargaining rights which the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 restored following the passage of the Industrial Relations Act 1971.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that our Press is not free. May I ask him which countries he has found where there is a freer Press, either among the developing nations that he may have visited or among any of the so-called Socialist countries of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Thomas
I shall not embark upon an argument about whether the British Press is freer than that of the United States or any other country. I question the premise that the British Press is free. It will not help the argument if I can show that the Press of any other country is more or less free than the British Press. Given, however, a situation in which 80 per cent. of the news media is in the hands of three large corporations, is that really freedom? It is pure oligopoly. We have three large corporations with their representatives down the other end of the Corridor who control our Press, and the Conservative Party in this House has used that fact in an attempt to deny a group of people working for the Press their rights which are being written into the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. What is more, the Opposition's concern is only for a restricted group of workers. They do not use the same argument in relation to workers involved in actually producing our newspapers. They have not said a word about SOGAT and the other printing unions which were being attacked by so many people a few years ago.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas
The right hon. Member cannot deny that if we were to add up the plethora of pages of discussion throughout this debate it would be found that almost 99 per cent. dealt with the freedom of the Press. There has been 1363 little about the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act or these amendments.
Many people would say that there is a problem about the British Press because it is not free. If we are to deal with that, we would need a totally different and comprehensive approach. We must not tack on to a piece of legislation dealing with collective bargaining the kind of charter and amendments that are put forward here.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not object if I remind him of what he said in Committee. I agree with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft that my right hon. Friend made it clear that he was concerned to protect Press freedom. He said that the way proposed by the Opposition was not the way to go about it. We ought not to tack on a clause or a code of conduct to this legislation. My right hon. Friend said:That is why the Government were strongly in favour of the initiative taken by the National Union of Journalists whereby discussions should take place; discussions directed at devising not a law—not even a clause to be inserted, because that is not a satisfactory way of doing it but terms that could be put into the union membership agreement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 17th December 1974; c. 98.]I understood my right hon. Friend to say that he would very much welcome a charter that was freely negotiated between the trade unions and the employers in the industry. Now we are told that if the charter is not freely negotiated within 12 months this House will, if there is a majority in favour of it, impose the charter on the trade unions and the employers. We are told that contravention of the charter may be used as evidence before a court or tribunal.
This is a fundamental shift in the position adopted by my right hon. Friend I am disappointed that he has given way and heeded the lurid stories we have heard. I have never heard such chilling stories about what might happen if certain groups took over the NUJ. Again, this has little relationship to the Trade and Labour Relations Act 1974. As I understand it, the NUJ already has closed shops. It has already got 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. membership in certain areas. It does not need a closed shop to make reality of the kind of horror stories we 1364 have heard from the Conservative Benches—if that was its intention.
We have been told that the NUJ would force editors to join trade unions. The fact is that the union membership agreement is to be negotiated between the trade unions and the employers concerned. The point to emphasise is the definition of a union membership agreement. The Act makes clear that a union membership agreement is an agreement or arrangement which:is made by or on behalf of, or otherwise exists between one or more independent trade unions and one or more employers or employers' associations; and(b) relates to employees of an identifiable class".It has been made clear time and again that if the parties, in drawing up a union membership agreement, identify a particular class, they ipso facto identify those who are to be left out. If they want to leave out editors they are free to do so.
We are told that the NUJ will deny access to outside contributors. This point is taken up in the amendment. I do not hesitate to say that the NUJ has every right to be concerned about the number of outside contributors who are taking away work from its members. It is right that it should have a policy about this. Every union has the right to be concerned about outside agency work or whatever it is called, work that takes away from the craftsmen in the union. I am afraid that far too many people have in the past taken a stand quite contrary to that which they would take in their own trade union branch if they were trade union members. They have been those with vested interests in this respect.
The Government have simply put the Act back to a neutral position. The Tories made the closed shop illegal. The other end of the spectrum would be for the Government to say "You must sit down and negotiate a trade union membership agreement." They have said no such thing. They have said "There it is. If you want it, sit down and negotiate it."
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
Can the hon. Gentleman say a little more about his anxiety regarding outside contributors? Is it not a fact that contributors to a newspaper do not 1365 take away from the work of the craftsmen? What is happening is that something additional is being published by the newspaper, something which is of special interest to, say, local groups. Cannot the hon. Member see that it is not a matter of taking someone's work from people?
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. Member reads the definition of a trade union membership agreement in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, he will see that the agreement is between employers and employees. These individuals who occasionally contribute articles—and the trade unions in the industry have no objection to that—are not employees. There is nothing in the legislation which says that if a union membership agreement is signed all or part of the outside contributions to a newspaper will stop. That is not NUJ policy, and it is neither encouraged nor discouraged by the legislation. Without the legislation the trade unions in the industry could still take a certain line on this. These people are not employees in the accepted sense.
Conservative Members have tabled amendments because they believe that the charter proposed by my right hon. Friend does not go far enough. They tried to get their friends in the other place to do the job for them. Now they, too, are trying to inject into the charter some of the things they have to give up in the Industrial Relations Act. They speak of the right of journalists not to be unreasonably excluded or expelled from trade unions.
If we are to begin deciding that kind of thing in the courts, we will have to examine the trade union rule books to see whether the correct procedure has been gone through. We will be back on the old escalator of Appendix 4 to the Industrial Relations Act—examining the detail of trade union appeals machinery and so on again. What a nonsense it is to talk in this amendment about belongingto … the union of their choke".If that is not a charter of destruction for industrial relations, I do not know what is.
Today the Sun newspaper has been mentioned as a beacon of our liberties. I could tell that newspaper that I wanted to work for it, but that I wanted to join 1366 the National Union of Seamen or the National Union of Mineworkers. The Opposition Benches echo with the claim that there are too many trade unions in this country—and too many trade unionists for that matter. The Conservatives' political schizophrenia leads them to demand that people should be able to join the trade union of their choice. In the last debate we were advised by them that any individual who did not agree with a majority decision of his trade union branch should rip up his card and join another union—and then, if he did not agree with that union, rip up that card and join another union.
Amendment No. 1 speaks of the right of journalists to join a trade union of their choice. If the amendment were made, there could be 30 or 40 unions in the Press industry. Presumably that is what the Opposition want. They talk about the rights of editors, but no rights are given to trade unions. They want the proprietors, their friends along the Corridor, to have full power in the newspaper industry, and then they come out with all their pious nonsense about doing it to defend a free Press. I hope that the House will reject the amendment by a considerable majority.
§ Mr. Churchill
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are seeking in the Bill to strip rights from individual trade unionists. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations upholds the right of individuals to be free to join or not to join any organisation. They cannot, under that charter, be required to join organisations, but under this legislation the Government will require them to do so.
§ Mr. Thomas
To suggest that the hon. Member's party wants to defend the rights of trade unions is absolute nonsense. His party was willing to put the dockers, miners and any other group of workers in prison under its legislation. The Bill, with its clause on the union membership agreements, has nothing to do with the freedom or otherwise of the Press. The Opposition, by their amendments, are attempting to isolate a particular group of workers from the main stream of the working class and the Labour movement.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
As I understand the speech we have just 1367 heard, I do not believe that the Secretary of State has full support on this matter. It is extremely unlikely that someone would opt to join the National Union of Seamen and obtain employment with the Sun newspaper, because a union that did not carry on the business of the firm in which he was to be employed would not be operating there, anyway.
§ Mr. Thorpe
If he were a shipping correspondent he would in all probability not be a member of the NUJ and might be precluded from making an independent contribution. That redounds on the raucous cheers from the Labour Benches.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) asked whether there were any words or phrases in the amendment which any of us found unexceptionable. Every one of the basic liberties that he is seeking to preserve is totally unexceptionable. But it would be bad tactics to pass the amendment. It is not likely to achieve the result that I hope the whole House would like to see.
My colleagues in another place, in the conditions of that time, supported all the Goodman amendments. My right hon. and hon. Friends, took a different view on 6th November. It is a finely balanced argument. I think that we have come a long way in persuading the Minister to produce a charter. No one need now argue why the Press is in a particular situation. The answer is that the right hon. Gentleman must think so, or we would not have the provisions of the charter written into the legislation.
I want to see the talks succeed, and to see every relevant matter discussed round the table. As any lawyer knows, the inclusion of express matters for discussion is by implication an exclusion of everything else. All the matters in question should be discussed between the two sides of the industry. I have long believed that the sooner the two sides can get together for discussion, the better.
I do not think that I shall be breaking any confidences if I tell the House that at the beginning of last year I wrote to the Guild of British Newspaper Editors, 1368 the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Union of Journalists, the Institute of Journalists, the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, the Scottish Newspaper Proprietors Association and Fleet Street editors. I asked them all whether, if all the other bodies concerned were prepared to meet, they would be the only ones to refuse. They all replied that if everyone else accepted they would be prepared to meet under an independent chairman of whom they approved.
When I had the agreement of 15 people I asked Lord Pearce to chair a meeting on 20th February last year. I made no attempt to get publicity for the meeting, because I thought it more important to find a solution. It is interesting to reflect how far the meeting went along the road to agreement. Lord Pearce wrote to the Secretary of State on 20th February to say that it was agreed by a majority of 13 to 2 that:Provided the Press and Broadcasting are excluded from the provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, they (the organisations concerned) would be prepared to discuss the framing of a Charter to safeguard the freedom of the Press and Broadcasting in the widest context and to prevent improper pressures from any quarter.The two representatives of the NUJ put forward a Motion: That irrespective of the outcome of the Bill the parties here should try to agree on such a Chater.This was lost by 12 to 2".The point is that there was an agreement that in certain circumstances there could and should be the widest possible discussion of all the matters involved.
At this stage we should be trying to ensure that the talks start with the best possible good will on both sides. Although I disagree with much of what the Secretary of State has said in this sphere, I think that in the new clause he has set out certain general principles, and all the specific matters to which the right hon. Member for Lowestoft refers in his amendment can be discussed under the general heading of those principles. What is important at this stage is not how many conditions and preconditions are attached but what the outcome of the discussions is—the charter that comes before the House for approval. If the matters to which the right hon. Member for Lowestoft has drawn attention are not 1369 included or dealt with satisfactorily in that charter, I would believe it to be defective and deficient, and I would vote against it.
There are two considerations. The most important thing is that the discussions should start, with the widest possible discretion on both sides, untrammelled and trying to forget what has happened and to reach agreement. Then we should have a long cool look at what comes out.
The second thing, which I shall not argue at length, because it will come up on the next batch of amendments, is that what is agreed consequently should be not only acceptable to the House but binding on the parties who have agreed to it. That is much more important. I would much rather that these talks started in the knowledge that it was a perfectly free discussion, that any side could raise any matter it wanted, knowing that, at the end of the day, not only would it be bound in honour to enforce whatever was agreed, but that it would be binding within the law. I shall not develop that now, because the separate argument is to come.
I therefore agree with Amendment No. 6, which provides that there could be an action for anything contrary to public policy. I do not think that it is preferable to the other amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but it is a second best. I do not dissent from any of the principles enshrined in the amendment, but it is tactically bad. That is why I cannot support it.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I am sorry that we appear to have lost the support of the Leader of the Liberal Party, especially since at an earlier stage that party took the same line in these matters and made eloquent speeches to that effect in another place. One is forced to echo the melancholy query of the Morning Standard of 100 years ago or so in regard to Sir Robert Peel's defection on the Corn Laws:He has persuaded others by his speeches. How comes it that he has not persuaded himself?Both of the speeches since the admirable, temperate and persuasive speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for 1370 Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) have been disappointing, that of the Leader of the Liberal Party for the reason I have given and that of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) because of the two basic misconceptions which seemed to pervade his speech—first, that there is a monopoly of the Press and no provision in law to contain or restrain it, and, secondly, because he appeared to equate collective bargaining, in which we all believe and which we all want to see flourish, with a monolithic structure which is not only unnecessary to the well-being of collective bargaining but may well be detrimental to it.
I believe that the charter in the unamended form propounded in the new clause is vulnerable to three main criticisms. First, it would be unnecessary if we had a Trade Union Act which was wholly satisfactory. Unfortunately, by the later content of the Bill the Government propose to take away from it a good deal of its current virtue. Second, I believe it to be imprecise and insufficient in its content. Third, it is ineffective and unenforceable even in regard to such protection as it is designed to give.
If we had a wholly satisfactory trade union law it should be unnecessary to include special provision for the freedom of the Press, because such a law would contain no threat to that freedom and consequently would call for no corrective. We should not then require the structure, at once elaborate and flimsy, of the charter in the new clause. Its alleged necessity arises from the defects of the Bill as proposed and particularly from the insistence of the Government on removing the two basic safeguards from the 1974 Act in regard to the closed shop and to exclusion or expulsion from a union.
Both of those tamperings with the principal Act, both of those derogations from its protection of the citizen and the worker, are rightly the subject of general amendments by my right hon. Friend which are not to be discussed today. Those protections, which my right hon. Friend seeks to safeguard, go to the heart of the matter—the basic minimum protection to which the individual worker is entitled in a free society, be he journalist or joiner.
1371 The combination of the closed shop procedure, preventing the exercise of a preference, however reasonable, to join another trade union, with the absence of protection against exclusion or expulsion is incompatible with the maintenance of a free Press. It is a recipe for a conscripted conformity in a sphere which more than any other should be characterised by diversity and freedom. It makes possible and encourages a monolithic structure.
I say to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West, who seems to be leaving, just before he slams the door behind him, that I shall not detain him for more than 30 seconds, but this arises from his speech. I believe that a monopoly control of the personnel of the Press is as great a threat to freedom of expression as monopoly ownership—or even, in contemporary circumstances, a greater threat. The dangers of monopoly ownership have been long recognised in the country, in Parliament and on the statute book, but there is an equal danger in control of personnel. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on this in whatever place he is going to. I am sure that I have carried his assent.
It is because of the insistence on these basically unsatisfactory features in the general corpus of our trade union law that it has been deemed necessary to make special provisions in regard to the Press. In this one instance it has been deemed prudent to temper the wind, both because matters regarding the Press are notoriously sentitive and because in this context there is not only a threat to the right to work, which is common to the changes in the general law that the Bill will bring, but also the added threat to free publication and the dissemination of news and ideas.
It is because the law as proposed has these undesirable consequences overall, and because they present a peculiarly unattractive appearance in the context of the Press, that it has been necessary to clothe the reality of the matter so as give some outward semblance of decency. The result is this charter. In its unamended form, it is very much a case of the emperor's clothes; there is little substance in it, on a closer analysis.
The first great defect of the charter, apart from the circumstances that make 1372 it necessary, is the clear contemplation that it will give approval in some form to the application of the closed shop principle—the union membership agreement—to journalists. In the words of the new clause, it will giveguidance … on the application of union membership agreements to journalists".So the application of such an agreement will be assumed, and the guidance that is given in regard to it is unknown.
If my right hon. Friend's amendment is resisted, the inference surely is that the guidance is likely to recommend, or at least to sanction, the requirements of a union membership agreement for journalists as set out in Section 30 of the principal Act.
It is true that the charter goes on to assume certain editorial rights. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West, who has just left the Chamber, said that under Section 30 of the principal Act one was free to leave editors out of union membership agreements. That is true, but it is equally true that under Section 30 one is free to include them. There is nothing in the new clause that says or even suggests that editors will be immune from the application of the close shop principle. By clear implication, they will not be so immune, and the right to discharge their duties, which is expressly referred to in the charter, will or may have to be exercised within that framework.
In the charter, editors have a right to commission and publish any article. However, that terminology is more apt to cover the occasional outside contributor than the professional would-be whole-time journalist who seeks permanent employment as a staff writer, if he is outside the magic circle of the union membership agreement. Therefore, it brings no help to him and, looking ahead, perhaps only a limited help to the outside contributor.
Let us suppose that in the fullness of time all editors are in union membership—a situation that would certainly meet the desires of hon. Gentlemen. There is nothing in the new clause to prevent or even discourage that, and if all editors in the course of time come within the framework of union membership agreements and commission only contributions from fellow members in the specified 1373 union, there is nothing to prevent or even discourage them. There is nothing to help the outside contributor, who is outside the specified union, to market his wares and he has no remedy if, in a closed shop situation such as that, by some melancholy coincidence his contributions are regularly deemed unsuitable for publication.
I want to make a few remarks on the mechanism for seeking agreements to which reference is made in the new clause. The clause proceeds on the hypothosis of agreement among the parties—employers' organisations and trade unions. However, it does not say "all" parties. It does not define the extent of the consensus at which it aims. Therefore, surely there is the danger that this dilemma will arise: if participation in seeking agreement is selective it will not be representative, and if, on the other hand, it is comprehensive there may be no consensus. If there is no consensus, guidance falls to be given by the Secretary of State, including guidance as to the application of union membership agreements. That guidance will presumably be given in all the rigidity that is now proposed and that we can see from the Government's rejection of the will of Parliament in 1974 on the subjects of arbitrary exclusion and of protection to the individual for reasonable cause in a union shop agreement.
Finally, I turn to the question of the charter's effectiveness. Of what practical use will the charter, in its unamended form be to the aggrieved or injured journalist? It is true that he will have a right of complaint, but he will have no remedy. His complaint will go to a body, of composition unknown and procedures undetermined. What is certain is that no enforceable right is conferred on a successful complainant and no penalty prescribed for an offender—simply a declaration and publication.
Of what use is that? In the terminology that my hon. and learned Friends use, it is what is called a brutum fulmen. A declaration in vacua would be of little use to the individual. In the Courts it is true that one can sue for a declaration in appropriate circumstances, but normally linked to the remedy of a declaration is the effective remedy of an injunction to restrain the continuance or repetition of the injurious act, or a mandatory injunc- 1374 tion to compel the proper thing to be done. However, none of that is in the charter. There is no injunction, no compensation, no restitution and no reinstatement—nothing.
Therefore, we are left with the spectacle of the charter as a toothless wonder. That is admitted in Subsection (10) of the new clause, which says:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of a charter … shall not of itself render him liable to any proceedings".That provision at least is clear, if unhelpful.
In the next paragraph the new clause tries to suggest the existence of some compensatory ancillary advantages which the charter would give. It is true that the new clause gives one no remedy—no liability arises in any proceedings—but it may help indirectly in other proceedings. Therefore, before the House approves this new clause it is under a duty to ask in what proceedings the clause can help, and how. The subsection refers to "the court or tribunal". We know that the question of the tribunal will not arise because there will be no recourse to an industrial tribunal for wrongful expulsion or exclusion, for Section 5 of the Act of 1974, under which that right arises is repealed under the Bill.
Therefore, we are left with the possibility of an aggrieved journalist being given some assistance by this declaration in proceedings before the courts. In what sort of proceedings? It will not help him in an action for wrongful dismissal if he is dismissed on the grounds that he does not belong to a specified union within the union membership agreement of Section 30 of the principal Act. It will not help him, because Schedule 1 of that Act, in the amended form proposed by the Government if the Bill is carried, will specify in the clearest possible terms that such dismissal would be considered a fair dismissal. No court, in any proceedings brought before it, will prefer the murmurings of the charter to the clear language of statute carrying the unmistakable force of law, and say that a dismissal in those circumstances would be other than fair. Equally, it will not help him in any efforts to resist exclusion from a trade union, involving, as it would, exclusion from his livelihood. It would if the 1375 amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft were accepted, but not if it were rejected.
If it were accepted it would be logical to accept my right hon. Friend's Amendment No. 3 to the main part of the Bill, which lessens the necessity for a charter because the basic imperfections of the situation are removed.
What other possibilities can be suggested by which the charter can bring assistance to an aggrieved journalist who seeks a remedy in law? Presumably the Secretary of State does not envisage the freelance journalist bringing an action because his article has been rejected. I do believe that even the most optimistic solicitor would not give any encouragement to so tenuous a form of action as that. Therefore, on analysis, it is clear that there is no direct remedy in the charter and that the indirect remedies that are suggested are non-existent.
I conclude that the charter, in the un-amended form in which it is provided for in the new clause, cannot assist the freedom of the Press or those who work in it, still less guarantee it. Its ambiguous and ineffective provisions are no substitute for the proper safeguards of the Act—those safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, unhappily, seeks to remove. However, at least the position can be improved by incorporating the text of my right hon. Friend's amendment, which I join with him in commending to the House.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
The more I listen to the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on the subject of law the more convinced I am that it is in the best interests of the trade unions to keep as far away from the law as possible.
No one could complain that the matter with which we are dealing has not been adequately discussed in the House. Many hon. Members are rehearsing their speeches for the third and fourth time during the long period that has elapsed since this legislation was first introduced. It is essential, therefore, that we should get back to first purposes and find out what is the intention of the Government.
The Government's intention is to restore the law to what it was in 1971, 1376 before the passing of the Industrial Relations Act. That is all that the Government intend to do. Indeed, that would have been done long ago had the Government not lost a vital clause on the closed shop which made it necessary to introduce this amending legislation.
When the previous legislation was being discussed and when we were rejecting the Industrial Relations Act the newspaper proprietors had not woken up to the fact that there was a challenge to freedom prior to 1971, when the closed shop was legal and had been legal for many years. We heard nothing from Press proprietors about the challenge to Press freedom. We all slept easily in our beds, secure in the knowledge that the Press was safe and free—until, presumably, the Government's amending Bill came along and suddenly the newspaper proprietors and the people down the Corridors discovered that there was a menace to Press freedom. They used the most unparliamentary language in describing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as a Fascist, for example, for daring to undermine the freedom of the Press.
However, what threat are we faced with, and does it exist only in the imagination of newspaper proprietors? In common with many other hon. Members, I receive a good deal of correspondence. I have not received one letter advising me that any constituent of mine thinks that he is threatened by a lack of freedom in the Press. This is an artificial campaign sparked off by newspaper proprietors who have problems in negotiations with their journalists or problems on their staffs.
The Bill affects the rights of 5 million people. I was interested to note that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that there was little evidence prior to 1971 that the closed shop existed to a large extent. I am amazed that a man who pretends to have some knowledge of industrial relations could make a statement like that, because he should know that as long ago as 1966, when the last review took place, it was established that 4¼ million work-people in Britain worked under closed shop agreements. The figure is probably well over 5 million people today. The right hon. Gentleman should not state that prior to 1971 very few people worked under closed shop agreements.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I noted the right hon. Gentleman's words particularly. Perhaps I should have interrupted him at that point during his speech, because he said "There was little evidence of closed shops, least of all in the Press". It is apparent to me that he does not know that half of the journalists in Fleet Street are working under closed shop agreements. Therefore, to pretend that this situation affects only about 30,000 or 35,000 journalists is nonsense. It affects 5 million people working under closed shop agreements in industry.
How does the trade union approach the question of a closed shop? The Bill does not give the union the right to demand a closed shop. Unions have to negotiate closed shops. As a trade union official I have been engaged in many negotiations for closed shops. Unions have to negotiate with managements. A management may say: "No, we are not prepared to recognise an exclusive closed shop for a particular union." The management may well want exemption from a closed shop, and may say "Our foremen and our supervisory staff should have exemption from a closed shop."
Closed shops are a matter for negotiation between management and the trade unions. No one is forcing newspaper proprietors to have a closed shop. All they need to do is to say "No, we are not prepared to negotiate a closed shop with the National Union of Journalists"—in the same way that any other employer has that right. Therefore, why should they demand special preference?
I am amazed that my right hon. Friend has introduced a charter. What other employer has demanded that he should also have a charter to give him rights to exclusive freedoms for supervisory staff, foremen and so on? Why is it only for the journalists? I am amazed that my right hon. Friend has given way to this pressure from a few newspaper proprietors and leading journalists. All 1378 that he should have attempted to do in this Bill was to restore the position to what it was in 1971, before the Industrial Relations Act.
A campaign has arisen in the newspaper industry whereby we are told, with high-falutin' slogans, that the freedom of the Press is in danger. However, in fact, all that the proprietors want to do is to conduct their negotiations through statutory instruments and charters, instead of meeting face to face with their employees and negotiating or rejecting closed shop agreements.
As has been said in the debate, to talk about the freedom of the Press is a nonsense in this context. The greatest indictment of the Press was made by a former Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, when he said that the Press had "power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."
No one can control the views that appear in the Press except the proprietors of the Press. We all know that, and that by and large the British Press is an anti-Labour Press and anti-trade union Press, and is constantly propagating the views of capitalism, the capitalist class and the managerial class and, in particular, the proprietors.
I am amazed that my right hon. Friend has gone so far down the Corridors with them in order to try to find a solution to this matter. I am amazed that the Leader of the Liberal Party has now, apparently, been converted to the need for a charter. I congratulate him on his industry in writing to those many people to get them together to reach some consensus of opinion on the charter, and so on. My right hon. Friend will have to watch out, because he may become redundant. There may be nothing for his Department's officials to do if the Leader of the Liberal Party goes to these lengths to bring the two parties together.
However, with or without a charter, in negotiating a closed shop and its terms and conditions the trade unions have only to send a letter to the proprietors or the managers saying "Please may we have a meeting? We wish to discuss with you the terms and conditions under which it might be possible for you to enter into a closed shop agreement with us." The NUJ would act in the same manner as 1379 any other trade union in Britain, and newspaper employers would act in the same way as any other employers.
I pick them out for special reference. I am amazed that in our long discussions on this important matter, which affects the lives of millions of people—namely, of bringing again into legality something that the Tories made illegal in 1971—so much attention has been pinpointed on a narrow sector of the economy. I am surprised that a few people can print acres of propaganda against my right hon. Friend, against his intentions by means of this measure and against the Government.
It seems that they do so in order to secure some small advantage in their negotiations with the NUJ. An indication of the power of the proprietors is given when they can get legislation adopted in another place and when my right hon. Friend is intimidated into producing at least a charter. If he has not gone the whole way he has at least gone some of the way in an effort to appease them.
I hope that the amendments submitted by the Opposition will be rejected. I am prepared to support the Government amendment although I consider it is unnecessary. It contains no element of compulsion or statutory direction. I hope that after our experience over the past 15 months the House will now be able to come to its conclusion. That conclusion will be that every element of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, including the illegality of closed shops, will come to an end. That will mean that an obnoxious Act which has caused more industrial unrest than any other piece of legislation will finally be consigned to the dustbin of history.
§ Mr. Madel
I did not think that we would hear the suggestion from the Government Benches that the Secretary of State is afraid of another place. That seems to be the suggestion of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). The two matters about which the Secretary of State is most afraid at present have nothing to do with the Press. The right hon. Gentleman is afraid of the unemployment figures and afraid that the Dock Work Regulation Bill will not get through the House. Any suggestion that he is afraid of Press barons or those 1380 in another place is completely out of character.
Most of the speech of the hon. Member for Darlington was devoted to asking why the newspaper industry has been singled out by his right hon. Friend for a special position. If the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the history of his right hon. Friend, he will remember that he worked in the industry as both an editor and a contributor. He realises that it is in a special position and that if certain things happen to the Press the results will be damaging for democracy. Indeed, on 3rd December 1974, the right hon. Gentleman said:I think that the unrestrained exercise of trade union power in the newspaper industry could strangle that industry."—[Official Report. 3rd December 1974; Vol. 882, c. 1380.]We start with an agreement between ourselves and the Secretary of State that we need a charter and that the newspaper industry occupies a special position and needs special attention. The argument between us is whether the charter that the right hon. Gentleman proposes needs strengthening.
Before considering that matter I must say that I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) is not in his place. I join issue with him on two matters. First, he indicated that local newspapers are biased. That is not the case. Most local newspapers are neutral, and many are as widely read as are the national papers. The idea that they are full of capitalist propaganda or anti-Labour Party propaganda is not borne out by the facts. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman suggested that my hon. Friends do not care very much if people lose their jobs as printers or as anything else. We do care. Any Member of Parliament is very concerned about an increase in unemployment. It is only necessary to consider the debates that we have on this topic to realise that concern and worry about unemployment is not confined to one political party.
When the Secretary of State addresses the House I hope that he will appreciate that on certain matters we need clarification. Our worry is that this whole matter will be left to the NUJ. The question of what happens if the balance of power within that union is tilted in a different way has never been answered properly. 1381 On the question of an individual's right to join a trade union of his choice, how do we know that as the newspaper industry evolves a different trade union will not be created? I am not suggesting that the NUJ will be undermined; I am merely pointing out that as industry develops and as technology changes we are bound to see new unions created. The newspaper industry will not necessarily be exempt from that movement. In the Opposition amendment we make that point in terms of joining another union.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) will agree that the atmosphere in industrial relations has changed. There is no longer the fear of the law that earlier existed. My right hon. Friend has already made mention of that. Our real worry about the charter is that there is nothing in it to say that there can be an injunction, or that compensation can be offered if a person is dismissed or unreasonably excluded from a union.
Another great worry is the access of contributors to the Press at all times. I do not think we can ever underestimate the contributions of special contributors—people with specialised knowledge. Surely it makes sense for the House to protect their right to make occasional contributions to local and national newspapers.
The right hon. Gentleman must answer the points that we have raised about the inadequacy of the charter. He knows that the newspaper industry is sensitive, and he knows the power that it has. Indeed, four months ago he suggested what would happen if there were an exercise of trade union power in the wrong direction. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman to answer our questions. If the charter is not strengthened, and if certain things happen in the newspaper industry, we must face the risk of the freedom of the Press being impaired.
Mr. Esmond Balmer (Kidderminster)
I think that we all owe a debt to Lord Goodman for the way in which he developed this argument in another place. On listening to the Secretary of State one might have thought that it was the Duke of Omnium and Gatherum, or even Dorset, who was carrying the case, rather than the Prime Minister's sometime lawyer and trusted emissary.
1382 So much attention has been drawn to the Press that our attention has been removed from the equally important argument about the freedom of the individual in the context of the closed shop. It is unfortunate that these two factors have become inextricably intertwined. I am sure that the Secretary of State would have gone a great deal further to meet our concern about the freedom of the Press if these arguments had not intervened.
I believe that the position of the individual is still fundamentally unsatisfactory. There is a contract between the position of an employee and that of the member of a trade union. If an employee is unfairly dismissed by his employer his earnings and his job are preserved. He has the right to go to a tribunal, the right to be represented, and the right to obtain a written judgment. The Press has the right to be present and the individual has the right of appeal.
On the other hand, if a member is unfairly dismissed from a trade union his position is in no way preserved. He may lose his job, and he will have to wait for up to two years for the union's procedures to be exhausted. At that stage the mechanism of the TUC is invoked. The individual has no right to be professionally represented. The Press does not have the right to be present and the individual does not have the right to obtain a written judgment or the right of appeal. I cannot believe that any democrat on the Government Benches can rest content with that position.
At least the Secretary of State has gone some way to admitting that the Press is in a special position and is a special case. We have to admit that the position of the Labour movement in developing the freedom of the Press is an honourable one. The media of 150 years ago, such as the Gorgon, Voice of the People, Manchester Observer and Poor Man's Guardian, whose editor was one Hetherington, were landmarks in the evolution of a free Press.
All of us wish to preserve the right of an editor to print what he wishes, subject to the laws of libel, and to invite contributions from those contributors whom he wishes to include in his publication. I thought that we were all at one on that point. Lord Goodman 1383 and others were convincing in saying that it was possible that in future that right might be lost.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) pointed to one of the dangers: that of having a total monopoly in the hands of a group of work people when it comes to the printing of newspapers. It has been part of the Government's thesis that trade unions are above the law and that therefore it is not constructive to proper solutions to introduce the law into industrial relations. But the Government have not hesitated to use the law against the individual, whether to harry the man who has not renewed his dog licence or the person who has not made the appropriate VAT return. The law has already been invoked to see that the right of the ordinary worker is supported against the employer. I believe that arguments advanced by Labour Members against the law are not valid. I believe that the dangers remain.
I spent some part of the recess—to my profit and that of the Secretary of State for Employment—in reading the right hon. Gentleman's biography of Aneurin Bevan. I was struck by one passage in which he quotes Aneurin Bevan as saying:We have actually reached the position where it would be true to say that the leaders of the Transport and General Workers and the General and Municipal Workers decide the policy of the Labour Party. … This power they have exercised ruthlessly and cynically".
§ Mr. Bulmer
What happened in the past could happen again, could it not? The power could be developed ruthlessly and cynically. Is it not conceivable that, despite what was said by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), powerful and cynical trade union leaders might seek to bend the power of the Press to their will. We must do all in our power to prevent this happening.
I emphasise that the temptation exists. We have only to ask the question "When it comes to a matter as crucial as the freedom of the Press, can the Labour Party be trusted?" I believe that indi- 1384 vidual Labour Party members can be trusted, but when it comes to the dead weight of the trade union group, if I may coin a phrase originally used by the Secretary of State for Employment, that may not be the case. When it comes to the situation of the Secretary of State for Employment, I think that the question is unproven. We still do not know what happened when the Lord Chancellor finished his conversation with Lord Goodman and thought that he had achieved a compromise. At some point in the night something happened to prevent a compromise emerging. Perhaps the reason was that the Secretary of State took instructions. Perhaps he will tell the House why that change occurred.
It appears that the liberty of the Press is now to be entrusted to the democratic traditions of the NUJ. It is reasonable to ask whether such a heavy responsibility should be laid on what to date has proved a somewhat frail stem.
The Secretary of State for Social Services said some time ago that in a democracy it was right and healthy that any powerful body should be subject to outside scrutiny where abuse of its power could most harm the individual. That argument is as valid today as the day it was written in 1969 in "In Place of Strife".
I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will accept the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and refer the matter to a Royal Commission. The liberty of the Press is too important to be entrusted to those who have a vested interest on one side or the other. I believe that an impartial investigation is the best way forward.
§ Mr. Corbett
I should like to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for my absence at the opening of the debate. I was attending a spirited deputation of 100 school-children whose school is faced with closure. I regret my absence from the debate.
I shall be brief in my remarks because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) said, "We have covered this ground many times before".
The question was asked by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer) 1385 whether the Labour Party can be trusted with the freedom of the Press. I could become contentious and say that we need no lectures from Conservatives about the freedom of the Press. The Labour Party and the Labour movement led the struggle for even the kind of Press we have today. I do not believe the freedom of the Press should be entrusted to any single party represented in this House or outside it.
The question to which we return yet again in this debate is not that enunciated by the hon. Gentleman but whether we can trust the industry itself to safeguard, care for, protect, preserve and promote the freedom of the Press. The answer given to that question by Conservative Members disappoints me. Underlying Opposition speeches in this debate, and indeed the amendments, is the attitude that the industry is not capable of looking after these matters. It is as though employers' associations, trade unions and other bodies—in other words, the people who work in the industry, at whatever level—cannot be trusted together to work out a sensible agreement to safeguard the freedom of the Press, knowing that, if they fail in that job, we in this place can take over the job from them.
The Opposition go on to assume that one cannot trust them because they are not capable of reaching agreement. I regard that as a monstrous insult to everybody working in all sections of the newspaper and magazine industry, because they have not yet had the chance to reach such agreement.
I wish to correct what may have been a mis-statement in the debate in the House on 9th December. It occurred when I was seeking to comment on the attitude of the Institute of Journalists in relation to an invitation sent out some days earlier by the NUJ to try to convene a meeting with the intention of agreeing a charter on Press freedom. I misunderstood a telephone conversation which I had had with the General Secretary of the Institute of Journalists, and I wish now to correct the situation. I entirely accept that the Institute of Journalists, then as now, is willing to enter into these talks with the NUJ and other bodies to see whether a charter on Press freedom can be agreed.
Since we last discussed this subject, I am happy to say, events in the outside 1386 world have moved. As a result of some correspondence in which I have been involved there is now agreement between the NUJ and the Institute of Journalists that an attempt should be made to get the talks started. I was also happy to learn that the Newspaper Publishers Association, although not possessing at present an appropriate organisation to deal with the matter, has now told the NUJ that other bodies will be consulted to decide the best form of organisation by which to commence these discussions. It is not being too optimistic to read into the situation the fact that the NPA, representing the national Press in Fleet Street, is willing to take part in conversations.
One of the interesting features of the long debates on this subject is that all parties with views on the issue of Press freedom say, with great sincerity, that they are the people who have the interests of the Press most at heart. The NUJ claims no monopoly in wishing to safeguard the freedom of the Press. The fact that that union has tried to reach agreement on a charter demonstrates that fact. The Institute has an important voice in these discussions and so, too, have editors who are members of neither body—for instance the editors in the magazine industry in which I worked recently. The Newspaper Society, the NPA and other bodies will all say they are interested in preserving the freedom of the Press.
Given this starting point and common ground between them, why is the House of Lords insisting that it knows best? If we had an unfettered debate in this House on the freedom of the Press we would not get even the basic agreement which now exists in all sections of the newspaper and magazine industry.
§ Mr. Prior
I think it is of great value to the House that the hon. Member has made his statement about the misinterpretation of the Institute's position. In a letter to Mr. Kenneth Morgan on 12th December last year, Mr. Farmer, of the IOJ, referred to the hon. Member's speech in the House, when the hon. Member said thatit is not now, nor has it been, nor have I any reason to suppose that it ever will be, the policy of the NUJ to try to force into the ranks of the union everyone who attempts to write for a newspaper."—[Official Report, 9th December 1976; Vol. 902, c. 305.]1387 In his letter Mr. Farmer says:The Union is committed to give its full support to any chapel which seeks a union membership agreement. Such agreements would require journalists to be members of the NUJ as a condition of their employment.Is there any possibility that the NUJ would accept the IOJ as a permissible alternative? That would help us a great deal.
§ Mr. Corbett
This matter has been referred to in correspondence between the General Secretaries of the IOJ and the NUJ. In a statement on union policy on this point Mr. Kenneth Morgan said:The Union's policy for many years has been to encourage its chapels to seek, and support those who sought, 100 per cent. post-entry membership arrangements.I know the House appreciates that there is a difference between pre-entry and post-entry closed shops. Under the post-entry shop, existing union arangements would not be disturbed for those people already working in the industry. The statement goes on:That was its policy before our 'trial marriage'"—there was an abortive attempt at amalgamation between the Union and the Institute some years ago which, regrettably, foundered—remained its policy during that period and appeared to be an acceptable policy to your council—though not to all of your membership—when the two councils got so far on the road to merger as to agree on a joint rulebook".At that time there was an acceptance by the 10J council of this NUJ policy on 100 per cent. post-entry closed shops. The IOJ decided it could live with them. Mr. Morgan's letter goes on:In practice, we both know that throughout the Union's history some chapels have opted to follow the line of seeking 100 per cent. post-entry shops and others have decided not to do so. I expect that difference of outlook to continue. Our ballot last year held that decision should be left to individual chapels and would not be imposed on them by the National Executive Council or the Annual Delegate Meeting.I recognise the difficulty here. One has to make a judgment, but we have experience of what happens on the ground. There are plenty of papers along Fleet Street and in the magazine industry where members of the NUJ and the IOJ work quite amicably side by side and 1388 have done so for many years. In at least one of the Fleet Street newspapers where journalists are considering seeking a 100 per cent. post-entry closed shop there is no intention to disturb existing arrangements as far the IOJ members are concerned.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Prior
Would the hon. Member not agree, when he talks about what happens on the gound, that the ground has changed very rapidly in the last five years? Five years ago it would have been safe to say there was a reasonable chance of that policy being interpreted liberally and there would have been plenty of respect for individual conscience. I do not think the same thing could necessarily be said today, and that underlies many of the fears of the IOJ, editors and others working in the industry. They say we cannot go back to pre-1971 because the ground has changed.
§ Mr. Corbett
I am sorry, but I just do not share the right hon. Gentleman's pessimism. I have great faith in the common sense of the people on the shop floor who have to live and work in this situation. I thought the right hon. Member for Lowestoft would have been slightly heartened by the recent NUJ ballot in which there was a fairly good poll, in trade union terms, when the grass roots spoke on these matters. However much of a firebrand an FoC or other individual member in a position of power may be, he has to get support from the people who work in the industry and who attend the chapel meetings. We have to encourage them to attend chapel meetings, but I have more optimism about the common sense of rank and file trade union members than has the right hon. Gentleman.
The other heartening event since we last debated this matter again arises in the exchange of correspondence between the NUJ and the IOJ. The General Secretary of the NUJ says about talks to agree a charter:There is no plot here to manufacture a breakdown in order to have the Secretary of State use some reserve powers which he may be given: we have said, and I now repeat, that we regard an agreed charter of Press freedom as superior to any which may be imposed on the Press by any Government.I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not misunderstand me 1389 if I say that one of the objectionable features about what he is proposing is that he will have reserve powers, in the event of a failure to agree within the industry, to impose something on it. I know this is not a task for which he would volunteer, and it is my great hope and strong belief that, if we allow the industry to get on with the job, there can be some agreement on this matter. I believe in the common sense of the people at all levels in the industry. We should leave them to get on with the job.
§ Mr. Aitken
I agree with the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) that this debate must be seen in the context of changing events outside. It is worth pointing out that 1976 is likely to be a make or break year for the newspaper industry as a whole. Virtually every newspaper in Fleet Street is losing money, in many cases colossal amounts—sometimes up to £100,000 a week. New technology offers a way to staunch the financial haemorrhage, but if it is to be implemented there will inevitably be a large number of tragic redundancies and this will bring tension into industrial relations in Fleet Street, which could have disastrous consequences if it exploded into the sort of Luddite reaction we saw on the other side of the Atlantic when computer type-setting was introduced there. Therefore, against this sombre background of tension we must consider whether the Bill, facilitating as it does the creation of a closed shop in journalism, will help or hinder good industrial relations in Fleet Street.
The Secretary of State's enthusiasm for encouraging the NUJ to seek a position of monopoly power in controlling access to the Press takes an unacceptable risk with industrial relations in the newspaper industry. I therefore support the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that it would have been much better to have referred this matter to the Royal Commission. The Commission is producing an interim report by the end of this month on economic conditions in Fleet Street. It is expected to have considerable consequences. It would have been much better if simultaneously it had produced a report on some of the industrial relations aspects that we have been talking about.
1390 Unless the Secretary of State is to have an eleventh-hour conversion to a Royal Commission, we must deal with the Bill as it is. He knows that developments on this issue have gone a considerable way since we first debated the Bill. At least he has recognised the special position of the Press, a position which he denied existed at the outset. The terms of the charter, however, are still far too weak and ineffective.
The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) appears to think that the terms and the guidelines of the charter will be made more effective eventually but that they should be left weak now in the hope that all the parties will agree to strengthen them in the ensuing discussions. This approach is an abdication of parliamentary leadership. Press freedom is far too important for Parliament to opt out of its protection, even as a tactical manœuvre, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Parliamentarians and the people they represent have a right to lay down guidelines and to have a choice in the protection of Press freedom.
The amendment is wholly right, and Labour Members are having to scratch around very hard to find ways of objecting to it. It protects the outside contributor's right of access to the Press and the editor's right to commission and publish articles. It protects the right of members of the Institute of Journalists to coexist with those of the NUJ. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead is undoubtedly right in saying that in many chapels there is peaceful coexistence between the Institute and the NUJ, but his faith, as he called it, that this would be of universal application is a triumph of hope over experience.
§ Mr. Aitken
I shall give the hon. Gentleman one. Recently there was an industrial dispute in Birmingham. It was a serious dispute in which the NUJ members walked out and the IOJ members remained at their desks. The IOJ almost certainly preserved the jobs of the NUJ members, as was eventually recognised, and the dispute was amicably settled. In the course of the dispute there was a great deal of aggravation and considerable tension between the IOJ and the NUJ, and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise.
§ Mr. Corbett
That was not a dispute between the IOJ and the NUJ. The dispute was with the management.
§ Mr. Aitken
Of course it was a dispute between the NUJ and the management, but there was a great deal of tension between the IOJ and the NUJ in that situation, and to suggest that there is the hope of peaceful coexistence between the two is wrong. For that reason, some protection for this coexistence should be written into the charter. There should be a basic right in the charter for journalists not to be excluded or expelled from trade unions.
The terms of the amendment are quite unexceptionable, and it is a matter of shame and embarrassment that the Labour Party should be opposing them. If Labour Members oppose them it is because the Labour Party has become the Jack Jones puppet show in which the voting strings are being pulled by the trade union bosses—
§ Mr. Aitken
It is Parliament's job to protect the rights of journalists and individuals, and that is why we should support the amendment.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) should do his research more carefully. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) can carry on now.
§ Sir D. Renton
That is typical of the arrogance we learn to expect from some Members opposite. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Skinner
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way? He referred to my arrogance in making a few 1392 remarks to the hon. Member for Thanet, East. I could hardly match the arrogance shown by the right hon. and learned Gentleman when, in his capacity as a recorder, he turned out a witness who came to give evidence in overalls, and he told him to come back with some decent clothes on.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to comment in such a flagrant way on the conduct of proceedings in the courts? Is not that the kind of offence which should lead the Chair to name the hon. Member concerned?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was accused of being arrogant. Was it not therefore entirely reasonable that he should point out that the right hon. and learned Member who was making that accusation had himself behaved arrogantly?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely this whole thing is slightly irrelevant since the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has intervened in a speech which has not even started.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the House should keep away from personalities. Allegations against hon. Members should be put down in the form of a substantive motion. Good manners should be maintained and heat should be kept out of the debate.
§ Sir D. Renton
I support Amendment No. 1 and I shall in due course formally move Amendment No. 8, which stands in my name and which is not incompatible with Amendment No. 1. It would be an addition to the amendment because it would form, in effect, a new subsection to the clause.
If there is to be a closed shop and a charter for the freedom of the Press, however incompatible those two provisions might seem, we should make sure that there is genuine freedom of the Press. We should ensure that just as we have a 1393 right to strike—a right which is cherished on both sides of the House—there should also be a right not to strike but to continue at work if by his conscience and judgment the journalist concerned prefers so to do. Conflicts of loyalties may easily arise with a closed shop. The central governing body of a union is not necessarily infallible and sometimes makes mistakes. Sometimes the membership has come to the conclusion that the governing body was wrong. It is not papal in its infallibility.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir D. Renton
I was about to come to the position of editors. Editors and management are not always right, neither are they always wrong. What is a member of the National Union of Journalists to do—I ask the Secretary of State for Employment to consider this—if he thinks that his union's instructions to strike are wrong and that his editor and the owners of the paper are right?
We ought to face up to this situation. Should the journalist in those circumstances be allowed by law—we understand that the charter will become part of the law—to follow his sense of justice, his conscience and his judgment and do what he believes to be right, in the interests of the freedom of the Press and in the public interest?
The situation which I have been trying to describe in broad principle has arisen in non-closed shop circumstances in a group of papers covering the constituency of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) and my own constituency. It has been referred to earlier in the House, but I do not think that the latest developments in the matter are known to hon. Members. I should therefore like quickly to remind them of the facts and inform them of the latest developments.
Last June a dispute arose because of the management's proposals to install new machinery for printing the newspaper. The printers went on strike, and the editorial staff declined to follow the instructions of the headquarters of the National Union of Journalists that they should come out on strike in sympathy.
What was the outcome of the dispute? The management had its machinery installed, and no printer was dismissed from 1394 his job. The only printers to leave did so voluntarily. The local courts fined some of the people who picketed, because they had broken the law. They were fined £5 or £10—sums which, as usual, the union paid.
What happened to the journalists who remained loyal and continued to print the paper? One of them asked this question in a letter published in the Peterborough Standard of 21st November 1975:What was their reward for thinking for themselves in a situation they didn't want, was none of their making, did not involve them directly, and could only end in a bloody nose from either their union or their employers?All 36 of them were fined by the union sums between £15 and £50. Four of them—who had done no more than the rest but said more about why they were doing it—were singled out for the heaviest fines and were suspended from union membership for a year. I regard that, quite frankly, as victimisation. If the management somehow had behaved in a comparable way—I do not know quite how it could—there would have been the most terrible steam-up.
The 36 journalists concerned—I think there were possibly several ladies among them—appealed to the union. I do not think that their appeal has yet been heard. It is to be heard by what I can only describe as some of the top brass of the union, some of whom had taken the decision to strike and some of whom had not, and therefore—
§ Mr. Corbett
May I, on the basis of my experience, say that it is a disservice to describe the appeal tribunal as being composed of some of the top brass of the union? These people are directly elected by annual conference every year. They are rank-and-file people nominated by the branches. The appeal tribunal does not include any of the people who took the decision to strike.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that someone joining any trade union or organisation on a voluntary basis undertakes to abide by the rules? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that in any organisation, whether it is the RSPCA or the NUJ, situations will arise in which there is a majority and a minority view, and that our democracy at the moment rests on the principle that the majority rule will prevail unless it is changed?
§ Sir D. Renton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the correction. I still consider that my expression "top brass" is not inappropriate to the appeal committee. I am very relieved to know—because it is contrary to the information I had been given—that none of the people who took the decision to strike will be hearing the appeal. That is good.
As for the rest of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, in my opinion he has reinforced the case against the closed shop. I shall not try to follow his remarks in detail, but if he will think them out he will realise that that is what he has done.
The House would be very unwise, when legislating in this new position of a closed shop, to do so in circumstances in which the freedom of the Press might be affected. Even in the days when people used to say "My country right or wrong", that attitude was modified by the British sense of justice. The expression, "My party right or wrong" may occasionally have appealed to some Members on both sides of the House, but it is not to my mind an acceptable proposition, nor is it aceptable in the minds of most hon. Members, especially in matters of conscience.
We are concerned here with a situation in which a journalist may be working in the next room to an editor whom he knows and trusts, and a conflict of loyalty may arise between that journalist and—if I may use the expression again—the top brass of the union. They may be people whom the journalist does not know and may never have seen. He may, indeed, be out of sympathy with their general attitude towards union and Press affairs. Why should that journalist be penalised or victimised because he decides in a particular situation to remain loyal to his editor?
Taking up the point made by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), may I ask why there should be union rules which permit that journalist to be penalised or victimised.
§ Sir D. Renton
Yes, and the hon. Gentleman is trying to divert me from my main argument. He will be glad to know, as will the House, that my main argument is very nearly concluded. In my opinion this point is such a strong one that it should be dealt with in the Bill. I have attempted to draft an amendment dealing with it.
Union members, in a closed shop situation, ought not to be victimised or penalised. They alone should have the right to decide whether to strike, as advised by their union, or loyally to stay at work and keep the paper going in the public interest.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I have not taken part in other debates on this issue during the past 18 months and I shall probably be briefer than hon. Members who have taken part. The conciliatory tone of the introductory speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) was partly matched by the tone in which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) put forward his view. I am grateful to hear from a member of NUJ the straight facts about how the union works. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I link him with his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who referred to people who do not strike as scabs. It is odd, in a Session of Parliament when there have been doctors' disputes and when the Secretary of State for Social Services has praised the doctors who did not take part in the disputes, that Labour Members should be so selective in whom they class as scabs and whom they do not.
Unless and until it is established by the House that each individual worker, be he doctor, journalist, editor or joiner, has the right to stay at work if he decides to do so, the House will not have done its job properly. I hope that in replying the Secretary of State will answer the crucial question: as well as the freedom not to work, have we the freedom to decide that we shall work?
It is only through the free Press that many Labour Members are sitting where they are and many of their Labour colleagues are sitting in County Hall. It is because the Press published so many scatter-brained schemes which took in the electorate. We have only to look at the 1397 by-election result at Woolwich, West after six months' experience of the second Labour Government from October 1974 to realise that.
If I may remain non-controversial, my next point is that neither the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead nor the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) referred to editors, their responsibilities and how they discharge those responsibilities, nor did they refer to the individual rights of journalists. Clearly trade unions are important organisations, but they are made up of individuals, and the individual decisions made by journalists are more important than are the decisions made at branch meetings when attendance may be low. If hon. Members present constituted a branch meeting and a vote were taken now, the Government would lose that vote because more Conservative than Labour Members are here. That is how a trade union branch meeting works.
§ Mr. Cryer
The hon. Gentleman seems to be very concerned about the freedom of the Press and the workings of democracy. How does he view the United Conservative Newspaper Co. Ltd., which shattered the editorial decisions of the Yorkshire Evening Press when it bought up that newspaper and closed it down? What did he and his colleagues do then about preserving the freedom of the Press? What will they do if one of the two London evening newspapers gets into financial difficulties? Which freedom of the Press and which editorial decisions will the hon. Member preserve?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I should refer the whole matter of the freedom of the Press to the Royal Commission on the Press, which is the most appropriate body to consider it. If we consider the freedom of the Press only as a party political matter, we shall end up with four surviving newspapers, two of which will look like the Conservative Monthly News and two like the Labour Weekly. The Labour Weekly consists of seven pages explaining how wrong it is for one man to employ others and to build up a business worth £½ million and, on page 11, how to win £½ million on the football pools using Labour Weekly perm 27. I prefer the Press as it is at present.
1398 6.15 p.m.
The question was asked: which country has a Press which is as free as ours? I am not arguing that we have perfect freedom of the Press. In some countries which have a Press which is less free than ours there are no rights either for journalists or for editors, but in some there is still the right for editors and journalists to go to the courts and say "We should not be repressed as we are being repressed". Normally, that is in an attempt to protect the Press from the Government, but it can equally be to protect the Press from arbitary decisions of groups of workers.
It has been asked why we are not talking about other people who work on newspapers and why we are concerned solely with proporietors, editors and journalists. The clause does not refer to any other groups of workers. It does not refer to members of SOGAT, NGA or NATSOPA. Perhaps the Secretary of State will answer that question.
The crucial factor is that while Labour Members ignore the responsibility of editors, while they ignore the rights of individual workers, while they are selective in their accusations of scabbing and while they are willing to deny to individual workers the right to stay at work, the case for believing that the Secretary of State's charter is ineffective has been made out. If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the arguments put from the Opposition Benches are imperfect, he must at least accept that we have established that his protection is no protection for the people on whom the freedom of the Press depends. As citizens of a liberal democracy, we depend on the Press not only for reporting what we say but also for our knowledge of what is going on elsewhere—perhaps not always accurately, but we rely on the freedom of the Press.
If the right hon. Gentleman will not accept the arguments put from the Opposition Benches today and in the past 18 months, will he please put the case to the Royal Commission on the Press, which could give time for the newspaper industry to put forward proposals?
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
I wish to say a few words about the forceful speech made by the hon. 1399 Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). He asked why we should single out this one industry for special treatment. It was said in answer that the industry had already been singled out by the Secretary of State in the terms of the clause and by the very fact of the charter. But there are better grounds to rely upon than that the Secretary of State in his wisdom has chosen to regard the industry as being of special significance.
All hon. Members would probably agree that next to the writ of habeas corpus a free Press is the greatest safeguard for our liberties as individuals. If we have a precious safeguard, it is surely gross negligence to risk a weakening, let alone a destruction, of that safeguard. There are those who ask why we cannot trust this industry to attend to its internal conflicts in its own good sense and its own good time. I respect that approach, and if we lived in a happier and less abrasive and argumentative industrial climate than we do there would be grounds for following that line.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said, however, times have changed significantly since before 1971. There is much more industrial trouble. Already we are beginning to see in the newspapers instances—there was one in the Financial Tunes—of blanks being left in the copy because permission had been refused to a contributor to have his contribution published.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said, it was relatively unusual before 1971 to have closed shops in the newspaper industry. However, it is much more common now. Therefore, there is available to anyone who wishes to see it tangible and compelling evidence of increasing danger. Again, it would be all right if our experience led us to believe that union leaders—not only national union leaders, but local union leaders—were distinguished from everyone else in the country because they always made the right decisions in the national interest as well as in the interests of their members. However, not many hon. Members, including Labour Members, would go as far as to say that.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), who, I think, said not long ago that if the pro- 1400 posals go wrong the House can always intervene. A newspaper can be pushed over the brink to destruction in a matter of days. It can lose its freedom in a matter of days. By the time the Government get round to giving parliamentary time and the House gets round to amending the industrial relations law, it will be too late to save a newspaper and to preserve the freedom of the Press. After all, under our democratic system we operate on the basis of first past the post. That is why a Labour Government sit on the Treasury Bench on the strength of the vote of 38 per cent. of the electorate. That is why there are union leaders in positions of authority and power on the strength of a tiny proportion of the vote. Can we safely say that the future of the precious safeguards of our liberty can be left to the decision of union leaders who hold their position on so tenuous a democratic foundation? One has only to pose the question to realise that it is grossly negligent to entrust the freedom of the Press to that sort of pious hope.
It is a question of not only the freedom of the Press but the freedom of people to exercise their talent. It is a question of holding one's job. If, as a result of conflict, a man gets the chopper and is told that he is out and expelled from his union, he has no effective right to challenge that decision. He has lost not only that individual job with an individual newspaper but his earning capacity. He has lost his ability to earn his living by the only talent he has developed sufficiently to enable him to do so. He has suffered a profoundly serious injury as an individual, but we must remember the consequences to those whom he serves through the exercise of his talent.
I have no hesitation in supporting my right hon Friend's amendment. I am absolutely certain that if we followed the seductive words of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead and said "Leave it to them to decide in their own good way, leave it to them to exercise their common sense", the odds—not the certainty—would he that in a matter of months we should find that this precious safeguard to our liberty, second only to habeas corpus, had been fatally impaired. That is not something I am prepared to go along with.
If people of good will and intelligence imposed upon themselves the frightful 1401 pain of going through the debates which have gone on for 18 months or two years, compared the contributions made in this Chamber, especially on the Government side, with those in another place and looked at their outcome, at any rate at the moment, I suspect they would say "If a democratically elected Chamber with a Government elected on 38 per cent. of the vote can give privileges and powers to unions whose leaders may be elected on perhaps 10 per cent. of the vote, then we think that the other place, the non-elected Chamber, has acted more in the interests of the country and democracy."
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)
I shall start by commenting on the observations made by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and by several other hon. Members, including my two hon. Friends who have spoken in a tone of momentary criticism—my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol. North-West (Mr. Thomas) and Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). They have asked why we should have any special provisions to deal with the Press and why we should have the arrangements for a Press charter covered in this type of Bill in any sense at all.
I point out to my hon. Friends, and to all hon. Members who have raised this matter, that I believe there should he special concern in the House for the freedom of the Press. I shall make no special philosophical comments about how far we have that freedom of the Press at present, but certainly it is the duty of anyone who believes in the freedom of this House to seek to do everything he can to enhance the freedom of the Press. It is true that many members of the Labour movement and trade unionists have played a most notable part in the establishment of such freedoms as do exist in the Press.
Speaking for myself—perhaps I am prejudiced—journalism is my trade and therefore, no doubt, that influences my view that we must do everything we can to ensure that freedom is preserved and enhanced in the whole of the industry. I apply that observation not only to journalists but to others who work in the industry, including the other trade unions that operate in the industry. As a journalist I learnt a great deal of the 1402 profession from the members of the National Graphical Association. They were not members of the National Graphical Association in those days, because at that time the union had a different name. However, since we have been at the Department I, together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, have sought to do our best to assist in overcoming industrial troubles in the industry—troubles that could play a most damaging part in interfering with the freedom of the Press. We have sought in every way possible to assist in that respect.
I make no apology for saying that it is right that special attention should be paid to the methods by which we may preserve the freedom of the Press or, as I should prefer to put it, enhance its freedom. I believe that when we have the chance to put our proposals into operation we shall not merely preserve such freedoms as we have; we shall have a better chance of preserving those freedoms in the years to come than we have had for a long time.
In my view, most of this debate has been conducted in a very different tone, if I may put it that way, from some of the comments made outside on our previous debates. However, whatever differences may remain between the two sides on this matter I hope that there will be no more wild accusations about myself or the Government wishing to strangle freedom in any sense whatever.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft began by quoting one of his favourite newspapers, the Sun. I shall quote one of my favourite newspapers on this topic. I shall refer to the leading article not in the Tribune, which has made some important comments about these matters, but in the Evening Standard of 4th November 1975. I shall refer to the conclusions of one of the most eminent editors in Fleet Street—in my belief, one of the greatest editors that Fleet Street has known in this century. In his conclusion of the article on the subject he said that after all the debate in this House and the House of Lords—and this is surely the more reasonable course—the Upper House can admit defeat and end its opposition. Lord Goodman and his allies have made their point. They have reminded Parliament and all those concerned with newspapers that editorial freedom must not be jeopardised. Having done so, however, it would be wise for them to allow editors"—1403 I must get out some other spectacles. I want to get the words absolutely correct, because I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to miss anything. This is necessary for his instruction.
Having done so, however, it would be wise for them to allow editors, journalists and publishers to attempt to draft an agreement of their own making, as some of them have shown themselves ready to do, without invoking the restrictive and abrasive influence of the law.However it may be argued, when that is the verdict of one of the most distinguished editors in Fleet Street, I do not think that it is any good anybody trying to continue the argument on the basis of accusations that we are trying to interfere with freedom. It is a matter of judgment how it should be done. After all the discussions we had in this House and in the other place, we have support not merely from that area but from elsewhere. I could also quote from The Guardian, which has played a big part in all the discussions that we have had over many months, which reached conclusions in much the same terms.
Before dealing with the important proposal made by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and its association with the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft, I should like to refer to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I do not propose to comment on the Peterborough case because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) indicated, that matter is being dealt with through the appeal machinery of the trade union. I merely wish to comment upon the remedy proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman for dealing with the situation. His remedy would involve far-reaching interference with the operation not merely of the National Union of Journalists but of other unions in the printing industry.
We object in principle to provisions that seek to regulate union behaviour without real regard to the object of doing so. In this instance, our objections are increased by the fact that it appears to be that a union—whether of journalists, printers, or others remotely connected with the media industry—is not to have any powers to discipline its members and to demand compliance with its rules, which form the basis of the con- 1404 tract of membership. Moreover, there is no suggestion that an employee who refuses to comply with a union's instructions during an industrial dispute has to do so in the interests of safeguarding Press freedom or in order to comply with the provisions of the charter. The provision is blatant encouragement to strike breakers over a very wide area.
The provision would also cause difficulties because there is a distinct likelihood of its being considered contrary to ILO Convention No. 87—the right to organise—which this country has ratified and which upholds the rights of unions to organise their affairs as they wish so long as they are in compliance with reasonable laws, which are not designed to restrict their right to do so. It is most unusual for the law to remove from organisations the power to control members who may be acting contrary to their interests, and we know of no law of this kind in existence in any country that has ratified ILO Convention No. 87. We doubt whether the authorities would consider this kind of amendment to be in accordance with the spirit of the Convention.
§ Sir D. Renton
The right hon. Gentleman has read into my amendment far more than is there. The amendment would not interfere with the right of unions to impose a form of discipline upon their members. It deals solely with the right not to strike. That is only one feature of matters covered by union rules. The right hon. Gentleman has assumed far more from my amendment than is expressed or implied in it.
§ Mr. Foot
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has so quickly intervened to point out that he did not mean the interpretation that I was placing on his amendment. However, that is what the amendment would mean if it were accepted. When an amendment of that nature is presented by a right hon. and learned Gentleman with 1405 his experience in drafting and knowledge of the law, I think that I am entitled to comment on the actual words. The amendment deals not only with strike breaking but with holding office, and many other matters. Therefore, I think that comment should be taken and considered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the amendment to which he has referred were linked to the one proposed by the official Opposition—that those who work in the industry should be allowed to opt in and out of whatever union they wish—it could mean the end of any effective trade union organisation in this industry, and that that is probably what they are after?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the amendment being in contravention of ILO Convention 87. Is this a possible supposition, or has it been confirmed by the ILO? This is not a restriction on the right of a union to organise. As I understand it, it is a restriction not on the right of a union to ask a man to join, but to say to that man "You must not work."
§ Mr. Foot
I have given the House the considered judgment of myself and the Department on the interpretation of the way in which it would affect the ILO Convention. I believe that is the situation, and it is an additional argument, beyond those which have already been presented, why we should not accept the amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire.
I turn now to the principal amendment. One course open to me would be to go in detail through its provisions. I shall comment on one of or two of its provisions, but it is not necessary for me to go through them to the extent that I might otherwise have done, because of the intervention by the right hon. Mem- 1406 ber for Devon, North, who underlined one of the main reasons why we oppose the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft.
We wish to see this charter brought into operation. I certainly acknowledge the efforts made on an earlier occasion by the right hon. Member for Devon, North to bring the parties together. I am sure that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) were seeking to secure a sensible and liberal—in the best sense of the word—settlement of the matter. Therefore, he has some knowledge, and his quotations of what took place at that meeting indicate some of the influences involved.
The right hon. Gentleman said that if the amendment moved by the official Opposition were adopted it might impair the possibility of reaching a satisfactory conclusion to the talks on the charter. I think that he is right. His reasons may not be the same as mine and he may not go as far as we have gone in objecting to the amendment on the ground that it would make any chance of a charter impossible. But we have stated throughout the whole of this controversy that we did not want to lay down such previsions in advance, even if we agreed with most of them, because it would mean that the parties might never meet and that if they did meet they would be confronted with the difficulty of having to agree to certain provisions that the editors or proprietors wanted, that were cast-iron from the start, whereas provisions affecting the freedom of the Press and other questions that the journalists wanted were not to be insisted upon to anything like the same degree.
I have always held the view that if all these provisions were insisted upon by the Opposition and by the other House, they would make the establishment of a charter, if not impossible, at any rate very much more difficult. I am glad to have the support of the right hon. Member for Devon, North in that proposition, even if he presents it not quite as strongly as I do. What he has said emphasises the strength of what we have said thoughout our debates on this subject.
I come now to some of the objections to the provisions in the amendment. I shall not go through them all now. Some 1407 are matters touched upon in the charter itself, and are matters that have to be discussed and matters on which conclusions have to be reached if the charter is to be successful. But there are others, to some of which the Government have great objection.
The right hon. Member for Devon, North indicated that he accepted the amendment completely, even though he did not think that it was the right way to go about it. However, I take the last few words,(subject only to editorial discretion) of access to the press of all contributors at all times".If that were applied literally—"at all times"—it would forbid any industrial action at all. It would make industrial action by some people an offence against the charter. We could not possibly agree to the provision "at all times". It is contrary to what others have asked for, even when they have been making a moderate case.
I take another example. There is a conflict between the absolute right of editors, as stated in the amendment,to commission and to publish or refuse to publish any material".That conflicts in some degree with the next sentence,and the assurance … of access to the press of all contributors at all times.That is a contradiction in itself. It used to be said that military intelligence was a contradiction in itself. This certainly is a contradiction in itself. We have pointed this out before in our previous discussions, but it has not been accepted.
Perhaps I may underline what I am saying by recalling how we arrived at this situation—
§ Mr. Foot
I think that what I have said is the case. There is a contradiction between the two, which has not been resolved, as we have pointed out before. If the Opposition wished to resolve it they could have done so.
1408 Let me emphasise how we arrived at our proposals for the charter and how our approach, in my opinion and that of others who are fully capable of judging the matter, is a much better one.
The best way to illustrate this is to relate what happened when the editors of all the London papers first came to see me in November 1974 to make known their objections, requirements or desires about what we should do in this legislation. They had anxieties about a number of matters. They had particular anxieties about the right of editors not to belong to a trade union. That was a matter that they emphasised most strongly. They also expressed anxieties about the access to the Press of all contributors.
When I asked them at our first meeting whether they wished the Government to seek a method whereby the question of access to the Press might be resolved—and in my opinion this is the most important question of all, in a sense—and whether they wanted a system or arrangement whereby the question of access was dealt with by legislation, they said, "No"
I agree that if we ever reached a situation—which I doubt very much—in which the National Union of Journalists or other organisations or bodies used their monopoly power to deny access to the Press to outside contributors or to other people throughout the country—I remind right hon. and hon. Members that most of the interference with access to the Press has not come from the NUJ but from the proprietors and other bodies, even though that is the alarmist talk which has been spread in some quarters—this House of Commons would have to do something to ensure that that scandal did not continue and did not take root. I agree with that, and I have said it on numerous occasions.
But I have always said, as a prelude and as a postscript, that it is very difficult to do that by legislation. The talk is always about rights of access and the need to protect them against action by the NUJ, but this raises the question of the behaviour of the proprietors, editors and others. It is impossible to give a guarantee of access to the Press that does not deal with all the other threats that many of us believe to be much more real.
1409 It was precisely because of all these considerations, I am sure, that when I put the question to the London editors asking them whether they wanted legislation to deal with this matter of access, they said, "No. We are concerned about it in some respects, but we do not want legislation to deal with it." That has been the consistent attitude that I and the Government have taken throughout this controversy. It has never been understood in the other place. However, that is quite a common occurrence.
§ Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)
Once again, the right hon. Gentleman has given an assurance in general terms. Can he enlighten us a little more by saying more precisely how serious an action by the NUJ would have to be, in his opinion, to warrant his coming to this House with further legislative proposals?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall not answer the question in the form in which the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) puts it, but I shall answer it in dealing with the remarks of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), who referred to a somewhat revolutionary paper in Bedfordshire known, I believe, as the "Bedfordshire Red Banner". He put some questions to me about what would be the circumstances in which, if the NUJ behaved in this or that fashion, the Government would take action.
If I were to answer that question, I should equally be called upon to say what is to be done if proprietors sack editors. However, as I have said before, for every 1,000 editors sacked by proprietors, only half an editor—if that were possible—has been removed from his post by the operations of the NUJ. But if that became a serious menace to the rights of freedom, the Government would have to take action.
Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to think of any legislative way in which the problem could be tackled—and that brings me to the whole point of this discussion. It is the reason why we turned to the idea of a charter for dealing with this matter devised not by imposition from this House, but by the people working in the industry.
That is what we sought to do, and that is how the charter was born. It is not the case that we were deeply resistant to any such idea. My hon. Friend the Mem- 1410 ber for Bristol, North-West quoted me accurately in the earlier debate. At that time we did not think it necessary to include the charter in the Bill. We have listened to the representations made from another place by Lord Houghton, who produced the first proposal for a charter, and to the repesentations of Mr. Alistair Hetherington, at that time the editor of The Guardian. I think that I was the first person in this House to welcome the charter proposed by Mr. Hetherington as an admirable document.
It is no good saying that we have been resistant to the idea. We have listened to what people have suggested. This proposal on the Order Paper is the result of those general discussions. It preserves the principle that we should not seek to re-establish the ideas of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. We have absolutely rejected that. That would be a most unwise course to pursue, in the interests both of industrial relations and of the freedom of the Press. We are in favour of making the charter work. We genuinely believe that it can make a first-rate contribution to ensuring that the freedom of the Press is better preserved.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) says that this charter is just a declaration. "What is the use of declarations?" he asks. In this year of 1976—the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence—that is an inappropriate question. Declarations can play a big part in the history and development of mankind. In some respects declarations have been more important than laws. I do not believe that the declaration should be despised. The trouble about trying to give legal status and backing to the charter is that we get back to the same old difficulties. We would be discriminating against one trade union. Logically, if we were to do that in the name of freedom of the Press, we should discriminate against the National Graphical Association, SOGAT, and the others. There is no case in logic in dividing one from the other.
I say that we have set about this in a proper way. I hope that what will happen as a result of our further deliberations is that the House of Lords will consider the matter afresh. It has had three or four different opportunities to do so. I hope that it will understand that in the interests of 1411 good relations and for all the other reasons that I have given, the Government are not prepared to reinstitute sections of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. We think it would be deeply offensive to members of the National Union of Journalists to pick them out and to say, "This union is not to be trusted to have the same rules applied to its industrial relations as the other unions have." If we were to do that, on the advice of these eminent industrial experts and consultants in another place, we would make it impossible for the NUJ to form the charter that so many in this House, I believe, are recognising is the right way to proceed.
Obviously, if it is said from this House in advance that we are reinstituting sections of the 1971 Act to deal with the misdemeanours of the NUJ we would have to say "Goodbye" to any kind of charter. I appeal to the House, and certainly to the other place, to let us have the chance of putting this charter into operation on a sensible basis. Let us clear away the wild accusations that have been made.
As a member of the NUJ I am proud that I belong to a trade union that has a better declaration about the freedom of the Press than any other union has. I do not say that the NUJ has always lived up to the ideals in that declaration. But that applies to other sections of the industry and to other people in this country. It is important to have that declaration. What will happen—and as a member of the NUJ I am proud of this, too—is that if the charter succeeds the code of conduct of the NUJ will be written into it.
This House, if it really cherishes freedom as much as Tory right hon. and hon. Members like to pretend, should welcome that development with open arms and do everything it can to make the charter succeed. That is what I ask the House to do. We shall never do this if we say that these discussions can take place only under the shadow of the reimposition of the 1971 Act. We shall never tolerate that, and I do not see why anyone else should do so, either. In recent years, despite other difficulties—partly I think through the operation of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, and other developments—there have been considerable improvements in industrial 1412 relations. Certainly the strike figures seem to prove that. We have still got a long way to go. We should state that we must have nothing more to do with the 1971 Act. In that way we are proceding in the right direction. That is the way in which we can also obtain for journalists and newspapers a charter of freedom that goes beyond anything they have ever had.
§ Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
The Secretary of State ended his speech with a typically emotive distortion of the arguments which have been put before the House today. As ever, his references to the 1971 Act were inaccurate. As ever, his understanding of the strike figures is woefully lacking. Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to equate the number of days that have been lost through strikes—which I am glad to say is down compared with the numbers in past years—with the number of months lost as a result of increased unemployment? It is the inter-relationship of this vastly increased unemployment which has made a change in the number of days lost through industrial disputes. The right hon. Gentleman should take no credit for the fact that there have been fewer strikes. This has been achieved at a cost in terms of human misery, as is portrayed by the present unemployment figures.
We now seem to be agreed about the need for an effective charter safeguarding the freedom of the Press. What still divides us is the legislative basis for such a charter, the legislative provisions, if any, for the contents of the charter and the legal backing and basis of the charter provisions. Once more we have returned to this issue which is of fundamental importance in our free society—the protection and safeguarding of Press freedom. Some of us are now making our tenth or eleventh speech on this matter. Some might argue that we carry the parliamentary battle on this issue to the last ditch. A distinguished journalist once said to me that on the issue of Press freedom the las ditch is also the front line.
There is nothing wrong in being in, and remaining in, the front line in defence of Press freedom. Perhaps editors and journalists are becoming bored with the issue—certainly not as much coverage is being given to it as was given earlier—but apathy and boredom are the allies 1413 of those who menace basic freedoms, not of those who seek to protect them. Therefore, we make no apologies for returning to this matter again.
As is clear from the Order Paper, we are concerned about the wider issues of Press freedom and safeguards for the individual in the closed shop situation, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said in his powerful and compelling speech.
The House should also ponder upon the important matters concerning victimisation which were raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), because they are issues that will arise again. Victimisation in the context of industrial disputes can go both ways. We ought always to be seeking ways to conciliate and methods of resolving differences which protect individual rights as well as the rights of the community, as far as we can. I am sure that all of us recognise that we cannot ensure Press freedom by legislation, but legislation can help.
There have been references to the monopolistic control of the Press in this country. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) said that three organisations controlled 80 per cent. of the Press. We have thought it right that because the newspaper industry is of special importance we should legislate in a specific way for takeovers and mergers in that industry. That legislation helps to protect the freedom of the Press, but legislation can harm that freedom. We believe that the Bill, if passed un-amended, will do such harm.
The Government's proposed legislation would assist the people who seek monopoly control of those who edit and write for our Press. Of course, the legislation would not make such monopoly control inevitable, or a probability, but it would make it more possible than if it did not go through or were not severely amended.
Our debates have already served a useful purpose, because they have awakened people to the dangers implicit in the extension of closed shops within the Press. Whatever the result of the parliamentary consideration of the Bill I am sure that our debates on it have 1414 been well worth while, because people are now more alert to the dangers. It is less likely that the freedom of the Press can be endangered quietly and stealthily. People will now be watching with much greater care what is being done.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West referred to Labour's proposals for the Press. I suspect that he was quoting from the evidence given to the Royal Commission on behalf of the Labour Party. I wish that I had been able to intervene, but I wanted to check my reference. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has raised a serious question about the status of that evidence. It seems clear that it was not submitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party, and that many Labour Members were unaware of the contents. It was sent to the Royal Commission and is now quoted by an hon. Member as Labour Party policy. My reading of the proposals is that they would be very damaging to the Press and would, as every Socialist proposal would, impose a large, new bureaucratic burden upon a Press which is already finding it difficult to maintain its economic independence.
The hon. Member also made great play with our belief, expressed in the amendment, that people should have freedom to join the trade union of their choice. The Secretary of State followed a similar line. It is clear that our intention is that it should be an appropriate union. We are seeking to say that a journalist should be free to join the NUJ or the Institute. All the talk of seamen's unions is totally irrelevant and befuddles the issue. It has also been suggested that our fears are groundless.
Our debates have tended to concentrate on newspapers, but the Periodical Publishers Association, a substantial group of people, is also extremely worried. It says in a letter written in November that the Bill islikely to contain the proposed voluntary charter".Its predictions were right. It said that the Billunsupported by any legal sanction and lacking any specific protection for editors or their contributors, threatens not only the independence of all magazine editors but also the very existence of those magazines whose editors and contributors are necessarily members of a professional body and cannot be members of a journalists union.1415 There is no doubt that Marcus Morris, writing as the Chairman of the Editorial Committee of the Association, and presumably speaking for all his members, believes that the Government's proposals would have injurious effects on their freedom and very existence.
§ Mr. Corbett
While the House always welcomes the views of such bodies, it is rather sad that the Periodical Publishers Association has declined ever since its formation, to take any interest in the improvement of industrial relations in the magazine industry, because it refuses to discuss anything remotely concerned with collective agreements.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
That may be so, but I do not know whether the Association has a mandate to discuss those matters. It is likely that it does not, but I am sure that the hon. Member is not contesting the authority of the Association to speak, and to demand that we listen, about the serious challenge which the Government's proposals make to its members' freedom and existence. The hon. Member may feel that it will not convince him, but he must accept that it is speaking of genuine fears. I do not believe that the Secretary of State and his colleagues have moved an iota to allay those fears.
Our amendment is concerned with the contents of the charter. The Secretary of State went through it with his debating pin, making textual, legalistic quibbles about drafting points. It is always possible for Ministers, backed by the resources of a Department to produce that sort of quibble about amendments. Our debate, which is about a serious matter, should not be conducted on that level. The Secretary of State recognises that there are serious differences between us. They are not helped by arguing about the detail of the wording. Points of detail on the wording can be resolved in private discussions. We should debate differences of opinion. Textual quibbling brings the House into disrepute.
If the vital matters in our amendment—the right not to be unreasonably excluded or expelled, the right to belong to the appropriate union of choice, the right of editors to discharge their duties free of any obligation to join a union, 1416 and to commission, publish or refuse to publish, material, and assurances about access—are not included in the legislation any of the parties discussing the charter could veto their inclusion in it.
The Government want us to agree that the application of union membership agreements to journalists is a proper subject upon which the charter should give practical guidance, and leave it there, but surely the House is entitled to lay down aspects of such agreements which should be covered in any charter. How can there be any objections to that? We have heard little, if any, objection to the detailed provisions of the amendment.
The Leader of the Liberal Party, in a speech which the Secretary of State clutched to his breast, spoke about tactics. Is it tactically right to make these matters essential provisions of the charter? I share the doubts of Mr. Farmer, the General Secretary of the Institute of Journalists, about the possibility of obtaining an agreement about union membership agreements between the NUJ and the Institute. It may come, and I hope that it will, but expressing doubt about its likelihood is not the same as expressing distrust or lack of confidence in those who are concerned in this important industry. I do not accept the strictures of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on this point. There can be genuine and reasonable doubts about whether such an agreement can be made.
What will happen if these fears are correct, if, when the charter is drafted, the matters which the Leader of the Liberal Party believes to be relevant and some of which some Labour Members think are important, are left out, or if no charter at all is agreed and the Secretary of State comes along with his version? I have no confidence at all that the present Secretary of State would produce a charter which would win widespread approval.
The policy of the Leader of the Liberal Party is to wait and see. At least that has the merit of historic Liberal credentials, if nothing else—of postponing the awkward decision. He supports the contents of the amendment but thinks that, for tactical reasons, it should not be pressed now. He will not vote for it, 1417 although he announced to the Press shortly after the Recess that he would put down just such an amendment himself.
It is much better to include these vital provisions. That is why I ask my right
§ hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes 299.1421
|Division No. 30.]||AYES||7.15 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Maude, Angus|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Glyn, Dr Alan||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Alison, Michael||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Mawby, Ray|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Goodhart, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Arnold, Tom||Goodhew, Victor||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Goodlad, Alastair||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gorst, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Baker, Kenneth||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mills, Peter|
|Banks, Robert||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Bell, Ronald||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Moate, Roger|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Gray, Hamish||Monro, Hector|
|Bennett, Or Reginald (Fareham)||Grieve, Percy||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Benyon, W.||Griffiths, Eldon||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Biffen, John||Grist, Ian||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grylls, Michael||Morgan, Geraint|
|Blaker, Peter||Hall, Sir John||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Body, Richard||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hampson, Dr Keith||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hannam, John||Mudd, David|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Neave, Airey|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hastings, Stephen||Nelson, Anthony|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Havers, Sir Michael||Neubert, Michael|
|Brittan, Leon||Hawkins, Paul||Newton, Tony|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hayhoe, Barney||Nott, John|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hicks, Robert||Onslow, Cranley|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hordern, Peter||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Buck, Antony||Howell, David (Guildford)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Budgen, Nick||Hunt, John||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hurd, Douglas||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Burden, F. A.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||James, David||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Channon, Paul||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Raison, Timothy|
|Churchill, W. S.||Jessel, Toby||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Clegg, Walter||Jopling, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Cockcroft, John||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Cope, John||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Cormack, Patrick||Kilfedder, James||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Costain, A. P.||Kimball, Marcus||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Critchley, Julian||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Crouch, David||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Knox, David||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Lamont, Norman||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Langford-Holt, Sir John||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Lawrence, Ivan||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lawson, Nigel||Shepherd, Colin|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Silvester, Fred|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Sims, Roger|
|Elliott, Sir William||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Emery, Peter||Lloyd, Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Eyre, Reginald||Loveridge, John||Spence, John|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Luce, Richard||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Farr, John||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Fell, Anthony||McCrindle, Robert||Sproat, Iain|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Macfarlane, Neil||Stainton, Keith|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||MacGregor, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Stanley, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stokes, John|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Stonehouse, Rt Hon John|
|Fox, Marcus||Madel, David||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Fry, Peter||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Marten, Neil||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mates, Michael||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mather, Carol||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Wakeham, John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Townsend, Cyril D.||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Trotter, Neville||Wall, Patrick||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Tugendhat, Christopher||Walters, Dennis|
|van Straubenzee, W. R.||Weatherill, Bernard||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Vaughan, Dr Gerard||Wells, John||Mr. Anthony Berry and|
|Viggers, Peter||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William||Mr. John Corrie.|
|Abse, Leo||Edge, Geoff||Lee, John|
|Allaun, Frank||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Anderson, Donald||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)|
|Archer, Peter||English, Michael||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Ashley, Jack||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Litterick, Tom|
|Ashton, Joe||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Loyden, Eddie|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Luard, Evan|
|Atkinson, Norman||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Flannery, Martin||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Bates, Alf||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McCusker, H.|
|Bean, R. E.||Ford, Ben||McElhone, Frank|
|Beith, A. J.||Forrester, John||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Bishop, E. S.||Freeson, Reginald||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Freud, Clement||Maclennan, Robert|
|Boardman, H.||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Booth, Albert||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||George, Bruce||Madden, Max|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Gilbert, Dr John||Magee, Bryan|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Ginsburg, David||Mahon, Simon|
|Bradley, Tom||Golding, John||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Gould, Bryan||Marks, Kenneth|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Gourlay, Harry||Marquand, David|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Graham, Ted||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Buchan, Norman||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Grant, John (Islington C)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Meacher, Michael|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Grocott, Bruce||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Campbell, Ian||Hardy, Peter||Mendelson, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Harper, Joseph||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cant, R. B.||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Millan, Bruce|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Carson, John||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Carson, John||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Molloy William|
|Carter, Ray||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Molyneaux, James|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Heffer, Eric S.||Morris Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Cartwright, John||Hooley, Frank||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Horam, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Howell Denis(B'ham Sm H)||Moyle, Roland|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Coleman, Donald||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Newens, Stanley|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Huckfield, Les||Noble, Mike|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Oakes, Gordon|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Ogden, Eric|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hunter, Adam||Orbach, Maurice|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Ovenden, John|
|Cronin, John||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Owen, Dr David|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Padley, Walter|
|Cryer, Bob||Janner, Greville||Palmer, Arthur|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Pardoe, John|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Park, George|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Parker, John|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||John, Brynmor||Parry, Robert|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Johnson, Waiter (Derby S)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Deakins, Eric||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Pendry, Tom|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds W)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Penhaligon, David|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Perry, Ernest|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Judd, Frank||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Dempsey, James||Kaufman, Gerald||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Dolg, Peter||Kelley, Richard||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Kinnock, Neil||Radice, Giles|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lambie, David||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Dunlop, John||Lamborn, Harry||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Dunn, James A.||Lamond, James||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Eadie, Alex||Leadbitter, Ted||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Roderick, Caerwyn||Stallard, A. W.||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Ward, Michael|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Watkins, David|
|Rooker, J. W.||Stoddart, David||Watkinson, John|
|Roper, John||Stott, Roger||Weetch, Ken|
|Rose, Paul B.||Strang, Gavin||Wellbeloved, James|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ross, William (Londonderry)||Swain, Thomas||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Rowlands, Ted||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Whitlock, William|
|Sandelson, Neville||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Selby, Harry||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Tierney, Sydney||Wilson, m Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Tinn, James||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Tomlinson, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Sillars, James||Tomney, Frank||Woof, Robert|
|Silverman, Julius||Tuck, Raphael||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Skinner, Dennis||Urwin, T. W.||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Small, William||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Spearing, Nigel||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Mr. Peter Snape.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, Amendment No. 2, in line 44, after 'decision', insert which shall be binding'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
With this amendment we are to discuss Amendment No. 4 to the Question, leave out lines 58 to 64.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Many of the matters to which Amendment No. 2 relates have already been touched on in the previous debate. Therefore, my speech will be very much shorter than would otherwise have been necessary in dealing with this matter. Suffice it to say, without repetition, that the Secretary of State has thought fit to introduce the concept of a charter, which I and, I think, the House welcome as an advance. We have already agreed that there is a special case with regard to the Press, which is why this particular matter has been raised, and I think it is also agreed that since the repeal of Section 5 of the 1974 Act there is no longer any recourse to an industrial tribunal for anyone excluded or expelled from membership of a union.
The charter provides a fairly widely-drawn group of matters which should be inquired into and, if possible, agreed upon by all sides of the industry. They are set out in subsection (2). I have no quarrel at all with that subsection. I think thatthe avoidance of improper pressure to distort or suppress news, comment, or criticism,
§ the application of union membership agreements to journalists (and in particular the right of editors to discharge their duties and to commission and to publish any article) and the question of access for contributors"
§ covers most of the points which concern right hon. and hon. Members. However, what I find of considerable concern is that the right hon. Gentleman sets out quite plainly that there must be agreement within 12 months of the passing of the Act and that in default he himself will come forward with proposals. Then we have the whole paraphernalia of Parliament, the proposals will be laid before Parliament and any subsequent amendments will be laid before Parliament and Parliament must approve them. Finally there will be a Statutory Instrument announcing the date upon which the charter will become unenforceable.
§ That is what it really amounts to. It is a most extraordinary thing that this House is to be used as a sort of clearing house to give a cloak of respectability and authority to something that is totally unenforceable. That will be the nature of the charter. The new body itself has not been in any way defined. That is a very odd thing. Parliament says "We shall leave it to the parties who are discussing it to see what they will do, whether they will have a glorified Press Council or something else." That may be the reason why it has not been defined. It has only declaratory powers. Therefore, one is entitled to ask whether this will be enough and whether it will be sufficient guarantee to both sides.1423
§ Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may have said about the NUJ and its great declarations, I would have said that the annual delegate conference of March 1975 is not many moons away and we know what was passed there. I shall not refresh the right hon. Gentleman's memory. We know how the executive was overturned in its decisions of April, which were no doubt more in line with the right hon. Gentleman's views than with those of the annual delegate conference. In the postal ballot many of these matters were reversed, and by a narrow majority there was only a narrow defeat of a motion to ban all non-union contributors to publications.
§ While I believe it is right that both parties should be free and unfettered in their deliberations, I believe that at the end of the day what is agreed should in some way or other be enforceable. We have, as I have said, the annual conference, which is some indication of how the union was thinking only a year ago. We have the removal of the associate membership for editors. We have the Ferrybridge six and the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme, all of which are symptomatic of the climate of opinion in which we are operating. Therefore, what the right hon. Gentleman is basically asking the parties to the charter to say is "These are agreed principles provided that we have the right subsequently to break them."
§ Why should the right hon. Gentleman be so frightened that principles that have been freely agreed by both sides should be subsequently binding upon them? I do not follow the logic of that. Before the right hon. Gentleman says "Oh, but remember the Industrial Relations Act and remember that people were being hauled up before the courts", let me say that that was a totally different situation. It was a situation in which the Government of the day had imposed certain penalties and made certain matters which were not a criminal offence punishable in the courts. But we are talking about something quite different. We are talking about a charter in which the parties involved will be coming together into discussion and consideration, and we are saying that, should they believe in the principles and wish to honour 1424 them, they should be regarded as binding subsequently.
§ The logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument in saying that none of this must ever be enforceable is that a body of people who have once agreed on something which has been approved by Parliament must be protected from any legal proceedings if they subsequently fail to honour it. That is a most extraordinary doctrine. It is a doctrine that emanates from a Government who have a very curious view of the law, which is certainly not in accordance with the traditions of the Labour Party. It was the Labour Party which, to its great credit, introduced the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, so that the citizen should be on all fours with the Government of the day. It was the Labour Party which, to its great credit, extended the Legal Aid and Advice Act in order that the citizen should be able, without enormous financial expense, to have the protection of the courts.
§ Therefore, I do not see why there is this terror of the independent procedures of either the courts or the Industrial Tribunal—I personally prefer the latter—being able to say that what people have agreed, those people should agree should be enforceable.
§ When one looks at what has been drafted, subsection (10)(a) and (b), which in our suggested amendment we suggest should be excluded if the first amendment is carried—and it is consequential—one appreciates, first, that the concept that any such charter should be admissible in evidence is not relevant. This is no great gift. This is the state of the law as it is at present. It is simply verbiage. The law can take into account anything which is relevant and all evidence that is regarded by the court as relevant. Therefore, that adds nothing.
§ However, first, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to shut out the courts. I want to tell him that he will not necessarily be successful. This is a statutory body even though it may not have power. Because the charter will be approved by Parliament, it will be a statutory body. Therefore, I believe that the courts will be in the same position as they were when, notwithstanding Section 4 of the Foreign Compensation Act 1950—which said that the courts should be 1425 totally shut out—the courts found that there were matters which they should properly examine. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should get his legal beavers to look into the Anisminic v. Foreign Compensation Act 1950–1969, 2 AC 147.
§ The right hon. Gentleman may think that he is shutting out the courts. He is trying very hard, but he will not necessarily be successful in that regard. Therefore, he must look that point straight in the face—whether it is a jurisdictional or substantive matter that he is putting into the new clause. Indeed, there is one part of it which I do not believe is even enforceable.
§ The right hon. Gentleman says that the powers will be to hear and to issue a declaration, and then to secure the publication of the body's decision. How will the right hon. Gentleman secure the publication of this decision? What happens if there has been a strike which has been caused by the engineering union which has caused a newspaper not to come out for three or four days? That has been the position not many hundreds of months away from January 1976. What happens then if a particular union which has a certain right to come out on strike and to prevent a newspaper coming out does not like that particular report, which may be highly critical of it? How will the right hon. Gentleman secure publication? What constitutes publication? Is it the London Gazette, or perhaps the ever-ready editor of Tribune, who wants to see the Government's wishes carried out?
§ Even on this matter the right hon. Gentleman is making a promise which I believe he has no power to deliver. He cannot secure publication. I should be very interested to know how he thinks he will do it. The only way in which he could do it would be to have house-to-house distribution of the body's recommendations. Then he may be able to secure its publication.
§ Subsection (10) has been taken from paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the 1974 Act. What the right hon. Gentleman has done, significantly, is to take all those words and to re-place them here, and then carefully to exclude the Industrial Tribunal which was available under the 1974 Act. In those circumstances there would be recourse to the 1974 Tribunal. I can understand that many right hon. and 1426 hon. Members think that if there is an industrial dispute the last thing we want to occur is what took place under the Conservative administration when people went to prison. If my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will indicate that it is our view that the issue of contempt does not arise in references to the Industrial Tribunal. That is the great beauty of the Tribunal. However, it can make a declaration which is binding. If the Secretary of State is prepared to accept paragraph 3 of the First Schedule to the 1974 Act, he should logically carry it through by having the Industrial Tribunal.
§ In this country we have far too many codes of practice which are totally unenforceable. It is rather as if the right hon. Gentleman has cast himself in the rôle of Moses and has said that he will accept the Ten Commandments provided that he can call them a code of practice and provided that their operation can be regulated as and when required. The right hon. Gentleman is becoming a sort of part-time prophet who hands down the Tablets as and when he thinks necessary.
§ If the right hon. Gentleman is confident that there will be an agreement—I agree with him that that is what we must hope—I hope that the atmosphere of this debate will not hinder that objective. Indeed, that is why I voted as I did in the previous Division. I cannot see the logic of saying that what people have freely agreed between themselves will be a matter of agreement provided that that which is involved in the agreement does not take place subsequently. If that is the position, it is a waste of time for the House to consider charters, amendments and variations to Statutory Instruments such as the date on which they will take effect. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to do that, he is making a farce of Parliament.
§ The logical implication of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that those who agree to certain conclusions and principles are so likely to break them that they must not be asked to make them enforceable and binding. That is not the way in which we should judge the parties to this agreement.1427
§ The object of the amendment is to allow those who are in the industry to work out between themselves the principles of a charter. When they have done so, let us ensure that it is binding on both sides. That is the best guarantee that the principles in the charter will protect the freedom of the Press. If we do not do that, it seems that we are wasting a great deal of time in producing a charter which is totally unenforceable and of little effect.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
I start from a position of common ground with the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). He and I are as anxious as each other to see a charter drawn up that will be effective and will be observed within the industry. I seek to dissent from his amendment on the proposition that it is necessary to make binding the decisions of the body constituted under subsection (5) so as to secure the effective operation of a charter within the industry.
If Parliament were to lay down that condition it would have two detrimental effects on the aim that we have in common. First, I think it would make it considerably more difficult to secure the type of agreement that we wish to secure. It is one thing to ask a number of parties to agree on practices that they will commonly honour in circumstances when disputes about the way in which those practices are working out are matters that they will resolve between themselves, or to ask them to use the normal processes of the law to resolve such disputes, and another thing to get the parties to agree on a charter or code of practice in the knowledge that there will be a body that will be able to take decisions on the interpretation of the charter or the code and bind the parties to respect its decisions. That is the great difficulty that arises from the amendment.
This is a situation in which we want a wide measure of agreement on a number of problems. This is not merely a matter involving two parties, two unions, or one union and one employer. We want to get a decision from a number of bodies. Experience of industrial agreements tends to show that such machinery as is set up for sorting out interpretations 1428 of agreements works best when it does not involve the creation in advance of a body that has the right to make interpretations and to bind parties. In addition, I believe that the industry does not wish to have an imposed charter. That is highly relevant to the amendment.
If I am right in my contention that to carry the amendment and to make binding the decisions of the body set up under subsection (5) will militate against the creation of an effective charter and agreement, it follows that the possibilty of my right hon. Friend's having to make the charter is enhanced. I have a very great respect for my right hon. Friend's knowledge of the journalistic profession and the newspaper industry, and I am very much aware, having worked with him since March 1974, of his degree of sensitivity regarding the requirement of securing agreement in industrial matters, but I still believe that a charter agreed within the industry is infinitely preferable for the purpose that the House is seeking to serve. That is preferable to my right hon. Friend's having to serve that purpose himself.
I take the point of the right hon. Member for Devon, North that there is a difficulty in bringing to the House for approval a charter that has been worked out by the industry, or worked out by my right hon. Friend as a result of discussions with the industry, and having it rubber-stamped and approved in both Houses of Parliament. There is a difficulty if we are to return it to the industry and allow it to deal with matters in its own way, ignoring or following it as it wishes. I take that point, but I do not believe that that is exactly what we are doing.
That brings me to the legal effect of what we are seeking to do. When we discussed this matter with members of another place, their objections to the original formula were based on the standing of the charter in any actions affecting members of the Press that took place before the courts or industrial tribunals. It was then that we gave careful consideration to the type of legal action that would be influenced by the code of practice that we wished to see instituted.
We detected three possible types of legal action that could or should be influenced by the consideration whether an 1429 effective Press charter was being honoured. The first type of action that we envisage involved unfair dismissal. We considered it relevant that a person dismissed from a newspaper office should be able to show, in unfair dismissal proceedings, whether he was acting in accordance with the charter. We considered that a person should be in a position to make that contention that that it should be a matter to be properly taken into account in determining whether there should be unfair dismissal compensation. That was one form of action that we thought important, and we believed it proper that it should be taken into account.
The next matter that we considered was action in breach of contract of employment. Again, we though that to be proper action to consider in this context. The third matter, a much rarer occurrence, involves actions brought by a member of a union against his union. We thought that all three actions were appropriate and proper, and we sought to add them to the Houghton amendment.
However, when we sought to advance that proposition to this House, we were accused of seeking unduly to limit to court actions the application and relevance of the charter. That is the reason why subsection (10) of the new clause appears in its present form. We were persuaded by hon. Members that other actions that we had not considered might arise. Therefore, subsection (10) is in a wide form. I do not wish to be forced to advance the proposition that one should specify particular actions, but the way in which the provision is now framed prevents the charter being used in such cases.
§ Mr. Thorpe
In fairness to the Government, I believe that they should consider whether there is scope for a judicial order such as certiorari or an application under Rule 15 of the Supreme Court Rules. I do not think the Government have shut out the courts, but these matters should be open and above board. The Government should be prepared to say that there will be a right to go to the court and, if that is the case, they should specify the kind of tribunal involved.
§ Mr. Booth
We do not intend to shut out the courts. If I understand my law sufficiently well, I believe that the type 1430 of order quoted by the hon. Gentleman could be raised only if one could show, on a point of law, that some consideration had not been properly taken into account in determining whether there was an action, or, indeed, whether an action had been properly considered. I repeat that we do not wish to shut out the courts. In the first instance we sought to ensure that there will be matters for the industry, but where existing causes of action exist in which such matters are relevant, the existence of the charter should be recognised by those bodies and any decision of the supervisory body should also be quotable in such actions.
There is great difficulty in accepting amendments whose purpose is to seek to examine how far legal actions can be brought if we were to accept the propositions advanced. Is it possible that injunctions would be sought seeking to restrain parties or individuals contrary to decisions of the supervisory body? That is one possible type of legal action to be contemplated.
I can also envisage the possibility of somebody seeking compensation or sequestration for failure to follow through an injunction. There might be a claim for compensation in which an injunction was not sought—for example, a claim for compensation following the failure of somebody to carry out the decision of a supervisory body.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Does it not follow from what the Minister says that if the law were to postulate the injunction procedure, there would be the possibility of contempt procedure? If people defy injunctions, surely that is what will follow, in the last analysis.
§ Mr. Booth
I accept my hon. Friend's proposition, but surely such a procedure would follow from anything that led to an injunction situation. I should not like to deploy that case too fully. The legal effect in such a case may be somewhat uncertain. A court would have great difficulty in taking a decision in a case that involves no contractual relationship between complainant and defendant. However, if there is any doubt on this matter, it may tend to narrow the scope for any charter. Therefore, if we were to carry these amendments, it might give rise to actions for compensation in 1431 circumstances that might give no indication as to any limit on such compensation. That would be a further difficulty.
In addition, if these amendments were to be carried, the House should consider the difficulty that would arise for those in the industry who wished to determine the membership and constitution of the supervisory body. As the new clause stands, part of the charter to be submitted to the Secretary of State, and by him to the House, would involve the constitution of the supervisory body and presumably would cover the way in which its membership was formed. Given the circumstances that a number of parties to the agreement must decide such a constitution, it must be pointed out that they will face difficulty in deciding a constitution that would put any one of them in a minority position in respect of a supervisory body that could take binding decisions on the interpretation of a charter affecting the party concerned, or individual members.
Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that in those circumstances no authority will happily subscribe to the constitution of the supervisory body. If they cannot agree, they will not meet the requirements of the new clause in respect of a charter that is acceptable to the House. If the new clause were amended, the nature of the supervisory body would change. There would be created a supervisory body on the lines that we originally envisaged—a body as a forum for discussions between authorities in seeking to discover how the charter should be applied in particular circumstances. That body would be regarded as a tribunal or arbitration board, or even as a court, for the industry. That poses difficulties for the formation of the charter.
The effect of Amendment No. 4 would be to remove a useful provision. I do not think it would be acceptable to the House to have a charter limited strictly to proceedings within the industry—proceedings that had no relevance to any legal proceedings affecting the people who work in the industry.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that it is not necessary for this to be written in? If the courts regarded it as 1432 relevant, it would be admissible in evidence.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Booth
When we debated this matter previously, on a version of the Houghton formula, which specified the precise forms of legal cases in which decisions under the charter and the effects of the charter on those who work in the industry would be regarded as relevant, it was argued that by using this precise definition we were seeking to limit the matter. If the argument is that subsection (10) is unnecessary because courts can always make up their own minds whether a matter is relevant in evidence, that is a fair contention, but there is a value in the House's giving evidence to the courts that we wish the charter and the decisions of the supervisory body to be taken into account when these matters are considered.
Subsection (10) removes some, if not all, of the problems created by the first amendment. It provides that the relevance of the charter is not strictly confined to the industry. It can be taken into account by a tribunal, or in a court action. While this may be unnecessary, it also ensures that a court will be able to read such provisions before deciding whether a matter in the charter is relevant evidence. Its value is that it shows that this House and Parliament feels the charter should be relevant.
I request the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), in consideration of these arguments, to ask leave to withdraw his amendments. If he is not prepared to do so, I hope that the House will reject them.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
What a pleasure it is to be able for the first time to refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State by a more honorific title than has previously been our custom. The rest of what I have to say is less complimentary, which will not come as a surprise to him. We support the Liberal amendment and I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote for it.
When the Minister started speaking, it seemed that he was saying that he was in favour of a charter as long as it had no conceivable legal effect. Later he seemed to be saying that he was in favour of a charter as long as it had, on its face, 1433 no legal effect—though he did not mind if it had a concealed and obscured legal effect. That is an unacceptable position.
It is unrealistic and out of date to talk as if any breath or mention of the law being enforceable in this area is totally unapplicable. We do not believe that this is the case and that is why we support the amendment.
I shall reserve my argument in substance for our own amendment in case the Liberal amendment is not carried. We have put down an amendment of our own, rather than allow the Liberals to bear the brunt of the debate, because on the basis of past experience, here and elsewhere, we thought the Goodman amendment was, if not fully acceptable, at least more acceptable than the Liberal amendment. If, however, the Liberals can persuade the House to accept the full force of legal validity, we are with them and we shall support them in the vote.
§ Mr. Hooson
I understand the Secretary of State's wish to keep the law out of sensitive areas, but I do not believe he has done so here, nor would it be desirable that he should do so. I could understand him normally wanting to keep the charter outside legal spheres, but there must be an ultimate resort to the law and this is what our simple amendment is designed to achieve. It is the most effective amendment that could be introduced into the Bill.
The Minister advanced two reasons why the amendment should not be accepted. First, he said that it would be difficult to secure agreement on the actual wording of the charter if it was thought by those involved that there could eventually be a resort to the courts. I believe that, where there are various bodies trying to work out a charter which would be a code of practice for the industry, they would be more likely to get a generally acceptable charter if they realised that it might ultimately be challenged in the courts.
The Minister's second reason was that the Government did not wish to give the impression that the charter was being imposed upon the industry. No one is suggesting that this would be an imposed charter. It would be drawn up in voluntary negotiations and eventually sub- 1434 mitted to this House. That argument is not relevant.
I take the view, advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), that the body referred to in the charter will not be shut off from the process of judicial review by the courts. There could be action for declaration in the High Court under the Rules of the Supreme Court, Order 15, Rule 16. That procedure is not shut off by the Secretary of State's proposed new clause. An aggrieved party could also seek a judicial order by certiorari or one of the other prerogative writs. That is not shut out.
The third reason, which has already been advanced in more detail by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North, relates to the Anisminic case in 1969. Section 4 of the 1950 Act says:The determination by the Commission of any application made to them under this Act shall not be called in question in any court of law.But that did not prevent the late Lord Reid, with his brilliant mind, driving a coach and horses through it in the House of Lords and finding that a court could interfere in any such circumstances to consider the question of the nullity of such decisions. It would not be difficult for an ingenious judge—there are plenty of them about—to look into any matter under the charter. The Government are misleading the newspaper industry if they pretend that they have shut out the courts. Our amendment proposes that the words "which shall be binding" should be added. Our other amendment is consequential. I do not think it is really necessary to include the subject of the second amendment if it is accepted that the charter is a code of conduct that governs relationships in the industry and is every bit as relevant as the Highway Code in relation to appropriate actions in any court.
Provision is made in the proposals of the Government for a decision to be made and for the decision to be published, but what kind of decision will it be? I wonder whether the Government have considered that. In any event the decision is not binding on the industry generally, but it is, according to the wording of subsection (5), a decision between parties.
1435 The tribunal will have the right to hear a complaint by a person aggrieved by the failure of any other person to observe a provision of the charter and to decide whether the complaint is well founded. It can secure publication of the decision, but that is all. Is it to be said that the decision can be disregarded at the whim of any of the parties involved? Are we to understand that after all the trouble involved in formulating the charter, the careful discussions and the eventual submission to this House, providing a means of reaching a decision on a sensitive matter, either party can disregard that decision at will? That is an impossible situation. If one of the parties disregarded the decision, the individual concerned would inevitably seek resort to the courts and I should be surprised if the courts were unable to find an appropriate way of intervening immediately to secure a result in accordance with natural justice. Surely a party which has accepted the charter will not be allowed simply to set it aside at some whim or convenience.
The Minister of State suggested three possible types of court action that could arise out of the operation of the charter, and I believe that these may be three among others. My experience of the law is that it often works in a peculiar way. The action which eventually reaches court is not that which one would expect. There is no need to include this provision about evidence in order to secure the result that the Minister wants. It is important for the health of the industry that the Government should come clean and say that they would regard a decision by this proposed body as binding between the parties.
Perhaps I may give one example of the kind of problem that is likely to arise. It concerns the editor of the Hendon Times. He is a member of the NUJ partly because he also contributes sports coverage to national newspapers. In July 1975 he was accused by a trainee reporter of about a dozen offences against the union's code of professional conduct, which includes the following:Every journalist should treat subordinates as considerately as he would desire to be treated by his superiors.That is an unexpectionable sentiment and is part of the code.
1436 The union's disciplinary proceedings were set in motion. The editor did not attend, and he was not expected to. He learned of the date of the hearing only by accident, and when he complained on that score the union official said he had not expected that the editor would want to attend in any event. The regional complaints committee recommended that most of the original accusations were baseless, but on the accusation relating to the rule which I have just quoted it recommended that he should be reprimanded. The national executive of the union considered the matter and hardened up the reprimand to a fine of £10. The man had not been heard, and he refused to pay. To give some idea of the validity of the proceedings the journalistic staff of the newspaper, to avoid any further problems, clubbed together and paid the £10 fine. That is an actual example of the sort of thing that people fear if the courts are not involved.
It is necessary for the Government to reassure the country on this point and to accept that a decision by the body which is to be set up to interpret the charter shall be binding. It will be that in any event, and the Secretary of State knows it, but he should allow the country to know it.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Booth
A distinction needs to be drawn between seeking specifically to exclude the courts from the workings of the charter and the supervisory body, and specifically bringing the courts into the matter on new grounds. That is part of the distinction between what is proposed in the amendment and what the Government are doing. We have not sought specifically to exclude the courts. It is no part of our argument against the amendment that if it were carried there would be no further actions as a result, or no appeal against the supervisory body by an aggrieved party. Under the amendment, an appeal would be possible in the courts against a decision of the supervisory body, on the ground that there had been some misconduct by it. It might be on the basis that the decision was lacking in natural justice, or the contention that the supervisory body had acted outside its jurisdiction. It might even be that the body had made a gross error in law.
1437 The real difference between us is whether we want to create a new course of action, the effects of which would be uncertain. There was no dissent when I suggested that the amendment would probably lead to injunctions.
§ Mr. Hooson
As it would simply be a dispute between parties, and since the decision would be binding only between the parties, I do not believe that it could give rise to injunctions before a decision had been taken between those parties.
§ Mr. Booth
I do not want to cross swords with the hon. and learned Gentleman on this matter, particularly in view of his legal experience. I said that the matter was in some doubt and would depend on the question whether there was a contractual relationship between the parties. In some circumstances it could depend on the question whether the decision of the tribunal affected one of the bodies that was a party to the charter, or whether the action was in respect of an individual. There is considerable doubt on that score, and until a considerable time had elapsed we would not know whether a new basis of action would be created by the amendment.
I do not think that the example quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman was particularly relevant, since it involved an
§ attempt to exclude from the consideration of the courts the decision of a tribunal, in order that the decision could not be called into question. We are not seeking to do that. We are seeking to make quite clear, on the basis of law that already exists for specific purposes, just what the situation is. In cases of unfair dismissal, breach of contract of employment, and even where a union member is taken to court by his own union, we consider it appropriate that this provision may be quoted and referred to.
§ We do not want to create any new basis of legal action beyond that. That is our position. It is based upon the two contentions that I originally made. The first is that the amendments would make it harder to secure agreement in the industry, and make it more likely that the Secretary of State would be required to produce the charter. The second is that they would create particular difficulties for the parties to the agreement in producing the body to supervise, in the knowledge that its decisions would have binding effect.
§ It is basically for these reasons that we ask the House to reject the amendments.
§ Question put. That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 294.1441
|Division No. 31.]||AYES||[8.20 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Carlisle, Mark||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Alison, Michael||Channon, Paul||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Churchill, W. S.||Fox, Marcus|
|Arnold, Tom||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Fry, Peter|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Clark, William (Croydon S)||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.|
|Awdry, Daniel||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Baker, Kenneth||Clegg, Walter||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)|
|Banks, Robert||Cockcroft, John||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)|
|Bell, Ronald||Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Cope, John||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Cormack, Patrick||Goodhart, Philip|
|Benyon, W.||Corrie, John||Goodhew, Victor|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Costain, A. P.||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Biffen, John||Critchley, Julian||Gorst, John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Crouch, David||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)|
|Blaker, Peter||Crowder, F. P.||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)|
|Body, Richard||Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Gray, Hamish|
|Bottomley, Peter||Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Grieve, Percy|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Griffiths, Eldon|
|Boyson, Or Rhodes (Brent)||Drayson, Burnaby||Grimond, Rt Hon J.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Grist, Ian|
|Brittan, Leon||Dykes, Hugh||Hall, Sir John|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Elliott, Sir William||Hannam, John|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Emery, Peter||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Eyre, Reginald||Hastings, Stephen|
|Buck, Antony||Fairbairn, Nicholas||Havers, Sir Michael|
|Budgen, Nick||Farr, John||Hawkins, Paul|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Fell, Anthony||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Burden, F. A.||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Hicks, Robert|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Holland, Philip|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Hordern, Peter||Mayhew, Patrick||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Mills, Peter||Shepherd, Colin|
|Hunt, John||Miscampbell, Norman||Silvester, Fred|
|Hurd, Douglas||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Sims, Roger|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Moate, Roger||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Monro, Hector||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Montgomery, Fergus||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|James, David||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Spence, John|
|Jenkin, Bt Hon P. (Wansf'd & W'df'd)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Jessel, Toby||Morgan, Geraint||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Sproat, Iain|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Stainton, Keith|
|Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Jopling, Michael||Mudd, David||Stanley, John|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Keave, Airey||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Nelson, Anthony||Stokes, John|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Neubert, Michael||Stonehouse, Rt Hon John|
|Kilfedder, James||Newton, Tony||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Nott, John||Tapsell, Peter|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Onslow, Cranley||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Tebbit, Norman|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Page, John (Harrow West)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Knox, David||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margarat|
|Lamont, Norman||Pardoe, John||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Parkinson, Cecil||Thorpe, Rt Kon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Latham, Michael (Melton)||Pattie, Geoffrey||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Penhaligon, David||Trotter, Neville|
|Lawson, Nigel||Percival Ian||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Peyton, Rt Hon John||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Pink, R. Bonner||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Viggers, Peter|
|Lloyd, Ian||Prior, Rt Hon James||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Loveridge, John||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Wakeham, John|
|Luce, Richard||Raison, Timothy||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|McCrindle, Robert||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Wall, Patrick|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Walters, Dennis|
|MacGregor, John||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Wells, John|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Madel, David||Ridsdale, Julian||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Rifkind, Malcolm||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Marten, Neil||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Mates, Michael||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Mather, Carol||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Maude, Angus||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. A. J. Beith and|
|Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald.||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Mr. Clement Freud.|
|Mawby, Ray||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Abse, Leo||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Allaun, Frank||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Delargy, Hugh|
|Anderson, Donald||Campbell, Ian||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund|
|Archer, Peter||Canavan, Dennis||Dempsey, James|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Cant, R. B.||Doig, Peter|
|Ashley, Jack||Carmichael, Neil||Dormand, J. D.|
|Ashton, Joe||Carson, John||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Carter, Ray||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Atkinson, Norman||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Dunlop, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Cartwright, John||Dunn, James A.|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Dunnett, Jack|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Clemitson, Ivor||Eadie, Alex|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Edge, Geoff|
|Bates, Alf||Cohen, Stanley||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)|
|Bean, R. E.||Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Concannon, J. D.||English, Michael|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Conlan, Bernard||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Corbett, Robin||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.|
|Boardman, H.||Crawford, Douglas||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Booth, Albert||Cronin, John||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Flannery, Martin|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cryer, Bob||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bradley, Tom||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Davidson, Arthur||Ford, Ben|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Forrester, John|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)|
|Buchan, Norman||Deakins, Eric||Freeson, Reginald|
|Buchanan, Richard||Dean, Joseph (Leeds W)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mackintosh, John P.||Sheldon, Robert (Aston-u-Lyne)|
|George, Bruce||Maclennan, Robert||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Ginsburg, David||McNamara, Kevin||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Golding, John||Madden, Max||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Gould, Bryan||Magee, Bryan||Sillars, James|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mahon, Simon||Silverman, Julius|
|Graham, Ted||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marks, Kenneth||Small, William|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Marquand, David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Snape, Peter|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hardy, Peter||Maynard, Miss Joan||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Harper, Joseph||Meacher, Michael||Stallard, A. W.|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mendelson, John||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Mikardo, Ian||Stoddart, David|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Millan, Bruce||Stott, Roger|
|Henderson, Douglas||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hooley, Frank||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Horam, John||Molloy, William||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Molyneaux, James||Swain, Thomas|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Huckfield, Les||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Moyle, Roland||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Thomas Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Hunter, Adam||Newens, Stanley||Thompson, George|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Noble, Mike|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Oakes, Gordon||Tierney, Sydney|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Ogden, Eric||Tinn, James|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||O'Halloran, Michael||Tomlinson, John|
|Janner, Greville||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Tomney, Frank|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Ovenden, John||Tuck, Raphael|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Owen, Dr David||Urwin, T. W.|
|John, Brynmor||Padley, Walter|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Palmer, Arthur||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Park, George||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Parker, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Parry, Robert||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pavitt, Laurie||Ward, Michael|
|Judd, Frank||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Watkins, David|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Pendry, Tom||Watkinson, John|
|Kelley, Richard||Perry, Ernest||Watt, Hamish|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Phipps, Dr Colin||Weetch, Ken|
|Kinnock, Neil||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Wellbeloved, James|
|Lambie, David||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Welsh, Andrew|
|Lamborn, Harry||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Lamond, James||Price, William (Rugby)||White, James (Pollok)|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Radice, Giles||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Whitlock, William|
|Lee, John||Reid, George||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Litterick, Tom||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Loyden, Eddie||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Luard, Evan||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Rooker, J. W.||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Roper, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Rose, Paul B.||Woof, Robert|
|McCartney, Hugh||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|MacCormick, Iain||Ross, William (Londonderry)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|McCusker, H.||Rowlands, Ted|
|McElhone, Frank||Sandelson, Neville||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Sedgemore, Brian||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Selby, Harry||Mr. Thomas Cox.|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Brittan
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, Amendment No. 3, in line 64, at beginning insert:'Subject to the terms of paragraphs (c) and (d) hereof'.
§ No. 5, in line 61, leave out 'and'.
No. 6, in line 64, at end add:
'(c) any rule, agreement, act or conduct is contrary to the provisions of the charter shall be deemed to be contrary to public policy,
(d) nothing in the charter shall be taken to restrict or abridge any right existing by statute or common law'.
§ Mr. Brittan
We are now debating the Goodman amendment, the final proposal 1443 put forward by Lord Goodman in the House of Lords the last time the matter was debated. It is the crucial part of the whole debate.
We have observed a significant change in the Government's position, although they do not like such change to be recognised. They now accept, in a way they might have thought they would accept but did not actually accept at the time, that wholly different considerations apply to the Press from those which apply to other industries. It took a long time for that to happen, but it has happened. They accepted, finally, the need for and the positive desirability of a charter, which, having initially been accepted with no great enthusiasm, is now presented by the Secretary of State as being not merely a palliative but a positive beacon leading, to an increase in Press freedom. We have seen even as a further compromise—I believe it was presented as such—the Secretary of State accepting the necessity that the charter should contain provision for machinery of adjudication about whether there has or has not been a breach of the charter.
In the last debate the Minister of State seemed to imply that this machinery was something less than machinery of adjudication. He talked about discussing whether a charter was working and so on. He talked about whether this body would become a disputes body, as if that were most undesirable. However, when we consider the Secretary of State's proposal this body is described as one having the functions ofhearing any complaint by a person aggrieved … issuing to the parties a declaration … securing the publication of its decision.If that is not an adjudication body, it is difficult to think what is an adjudication body.
We are left with a narrow but crucial difference between us. The need for the charter is accepted. The machinery for adjudication must be included. However, what the Secretary of State still objects to is any possibility that a breach of the conditions of the charter should lead to any method of enforcement.
During the previous debate on the Liberal amendment much was made of the fact that the National Union of Journalists would be less likely to agree to a 1444 charter if it had any teeth to it. I suspect that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends find that an unattractive and unacceptable argument. It is an extraordinary proposition that we should put our faith for the protection of Press freedom in a document which is so brittle that it will not be regarded as acceptable by the National Union of Journalists unless it is still more brittle. In other words, the National Union of Journalists' good faith must be called into question—I should hesitate to do so—if it is really the case that it is prepared to agree only to a charter which is totally unenforceable. I do not believe that to be the case. Discredit is reflected on the right hon. Gentleman's confidence and faith in the National Union of Journalists if he should think to cast aspersions upon it indirectly in that form.
I believe that if the House establishes the need for a charter which has teeth, the National Union of Journalists will accept that it is reasonable that the charter should be created and that subsequently, if there is a breach of that charter, there should be certain legal consequences. The Secretary of State alternatively says that if that argument is unacceptable we must wait and see. He stands ready in the wings to intervene if the threats to Press freedom prove as dire as they have been described by some of my hon. Friends. However, that is not the right approach.
Surely the time to act is now rather than intervene at a time of crisis, when passions have already been inflamed and when action has already been taken which has led to a critical situation. It is surely infinitely less desirable for the Government then to come in with some form of emergency legislation to rescue the Press than for them now, when we are debating the question, to insert into the legislation a simple means of ensuring a degree of enforceability. Therefore, we suggest that it is entirely reasonable that there should be some limited inducement at least that somebody should take notice of an adjudication if the charter is broken.
There remain the objections to any kind of legal action in support of the charter which have been put forward time and again from the opposite, now empty, Benches. The objections are 1445 essentially historic, if not atavistic. We recognise that those objections are real in the sense that they are genuinely and sincerely held by a large number of people in the Labour movement. It is to meet those objections, however unfair and unjustified we think they are, that we are supporting the Goodman amendment rather than putting down in our own name an amendment on the lines proposed by the Liberal Party which we have supported.
We accept that historical recollections still loom so large with many Labour Members that it would be difficult to persuade them that the creation of a direct statutory remedy for breach of the charter was a sensible solution, however confident we may be that there would be no objection to it. That is why we are not supporting the full statutory enforcement suggested in an amendment moved by Lord Hailsham in another place and which the Liberals have also put forward.
However, it would be a mistake to reject direct statutory intervention and the giving of any legal force to the charter. We propose a half-way house. A price has to be paid for following a halfway house proposal, and I shall come to that shortly. This is meant to be a genuine compromise, a way of giving some teeth to the charter while at the same time, meeting the historical objections of the Labour movement to the intervention of the law in this area. We suggest that this limited form of intervention meets those objections. We would not be intervening in a direct statutory way, and if we intervene in an indirect way there is ample precedent for doing so of a kind that the right hon. Gentleman cannot impeach.
First, even in the direct statutory way, the idea that the law has no role in industrial relations is manifestly absurd for anyone to put forward, most of all a Government who introduced the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. The fact that the interventions of the law in those pieces of legislation were wholly one-sided is irrelevant. Its intervention at all is sufficient proof that the Government do not regard the law as being wholly without a place in this area. I cannot imagine that the Secretary of State would dare to say that it is right that the law should intervene 1446 but only on one side of the fence. It may be what the right hon. Gentleman thinks, but I very much doubt whether he would dare to say that.
Secondly, the law has repeatedly intervened in industrial relations and in areas where one might have thought the trade union movement would find it most sensitive. Yet the law has intervened, and its intervention has been accepted without marches, strikes, campaigns or even any attempt to persuade the Secretary of State to introduce legislation to prevent similar interventions in future.
Two examples have occurred recently. First, the AUEW was taken to court over the operation of its postal ballot. Nothing could more intimately affect the operations of the union, its internal workings and democracy than the operation of its postal ballot. Yet an aggrieved person was able to take the union to court and complain that the postal ballot provisions were not properly operated. The court found against the union, and the union, perfectly properly, rightly and, for once, to its credit, accepted it like a lamb.
The idea that every time that the law intervenes in trade union matters there will be an outcry, a return to the Industrial Relations Act, workers in prison and demonstrations is manifestly absurd. It is a completely unrealistic concept which is conjured up by the Secretary of State when he is at the end of his tether and cannot think of any better argument with which to end his peroration. That is the reality of the situation. The trade union movement is used to accepting legal intervention.
More interestingly, and more recently, in the dispute between APEX and ASTMS relating to SAGA, the trade union movement faced judicial intervention in that holy of holies of its operations, the Bridlington Agreement. The court dared to interfere in the operation of that agreement and to say in no uncertain terms what it thought of the way that the trade union movement was operating that agreement. Again there were no demonstrations and, as far as I know, no appeal and no deputations to the Secretary of State asking him to bring more legislation to this House to give further immunities to the trade union movement. It was accepted. The 1447 Secretary of State knows it, because he has said again and again about the legislation now before us in its third form that he accepts that the common law is all right. He is not against the common law. The common law is allowed to intervene in trade union affairs. The wicked beast which must not be allowed to get a toehold in the door is statute law. That is anathema.
It is to reflect these prejudices, which are powerful and real, however illogical they may appear to the Opposition, that the amendment has been framed. It is precisely to meet the combination of history and atavism so profoundly at the depth of what Government supporters think.
It is significant that the words used by Lord Goodman in his amendment are characteristic of the common law. What is said is thatany rule, agreement, act or conduct which is contrary to the provisions of the charter shall be deemed to be contrary to public policy".As Lord Goodman said, what he was seeking to do in that phrase was to revivify and to fertilise the common law. As Lord Lloyd of Hampstead—always a supporter of the Labour Party—pointed out, this provision gives no new statutory cause of action and provides no new statutory right of any kind.
The Secretary of State maintains that by putting it in this way we are operating on very dangerous ground because a breach of public policy may provide the basis for a common law action. He said that when we last debated this matter. But the real truth is that that is exactly the purpose of it. He is mistaken if he regards that as being the trump card which will make the Opposition back away, because we have some remote idea of what we are doing, even though that may be a situation unfamiliar to the right hon. Gentleman.
Of course, it provides the basis for a common law action. That is accepted. It does so precisely for the reason that I have expounded: that it is statutory action which is regarded as being so objectionable.
The Secretary of State must accept that the common law is a growing organism and that this provision gives it the oppor- 1448 tunity to apply its own common law organic form of growth within the area of the charter on Press freedom. It provides a measure of guidance which the courts will be able to interpret as they go along dealing with realities which arise case by case and incident by incident. That is what it is meant to do.
Much has been made of the fact that the exact extent of this operation and the precise circumstances in which the courts will accept the invitation to intervene are unknown. That, too, is correct. That was what I meant when I said earlier that there was a price to pay for adopting a procedure which was not ideal but was specifically calculated to meet the prejudices of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches. If we entrust this development to the common law—if we say that the degree of enforceability of the charter has to be one that cannot be prophesied because it is provided for by indirect provision—there is bound to be a certain degree of obscurity and uncertainty. But that is true very often when this House codifies or promulgates common law concepts such as those of reasonable care and reasonable foresight. That happens all the time.
We choose the courts, as the repository of the wisdom and judgment of the community, to fill out the details of those vague phrases as the individual cases present themselves to the courts. There is a choice. Either we pass statute law setting things out in detail or there are general phrases such as "contrary to public policy" and there is an element of uncertainty. It is because the statute law seems so objectionable to Labour Members and the common law so innocuous that it was thought elsewhere to be a reasonable compromise to put forward this form of limited guidance to the courts which could lead to common law action but which fell short of giving direct statutory force to the provisions of the charter. I would have thought that that was a compromise meeting the objections put forward from the Labour Benches.
I confess that when Lord Hailsham proposed direct enforceability and the Government had been opposing any kind of enforceability, and when Lord Goodman came out with this proposal, I 1449 thought that the Government would go nap on it and settle for the compromise. I overestimated the conciliatory nature of the Government in this matter. One of the advantages of intervention from the House of Lords is that the Government have a chance to think again. I very much hope that they will now recognise the motives and reasons behind this form of amendment put forward by Lord Goodman.
I hope that the Government will see that there was a genuine desire to provide a compromise between direct enforceability and nothing. I hope, in the light of that recognition, that even at this late hour the Government will accept that although the wording may be imperfect and there may be room for doubt and change, it is on this basis that we should go forward to provide a charter which has real teeth as well as good words and hopeful aspirations.
§ Mr. Aitken
I rise to support the amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), simply because when one asks the inevitable question "What happens if this Press charter is breached?" one gets the answer, from the Labour Benches, "Nothing". It is this impotent silence that makes a complete mockery of the whole idea of the Press charter. The limited inducements towards enforceability proposed by my hon. Friend provide a sensible solution.
The reason why we have this impotent silence in response to the question I asked is that it has become the eleventh commandment of contemporary Socialism that the law has no place in union affairs. The "abandonists" of the Labour Party have fostered the myth that because members of unions struck and marched when five dockers were put into Pentonville Prison in 1972 it would for evermore be foolish and dangerous to bring the law, in any form, upon these people again.
The myth has been cultivated very carefully by endless repetition. That it is a myth is proved by the unions' reactions to the law. The fact that they flatly opposed the statutory forms of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 does not mean that they will refuse to obey any new statute, still less limited legal inducements of the kind that my hon. Friend proposes.
1450 That is true even of legal interference with their own rules and procedures. One has only to look at the Employment Protection Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the forthcoming Race Relations Bill, all of which reach deeply into the unions' internal affairs and procedures, to see that. It is clear that the unions have no intention of defying the law on any of those matters. The whole record of the trade union movement, with the exception of the period of the operation of the Industrial Relations Act, has been one of respect for the courts and the law.
In the past four months alone there have been the instances of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers accepting a court ruling on postal voting, and the courts' determination of the extent of the operation of the Bridlington Agreement in the APEX-ASTMSSAGA case. These have dealt death blows to the Labour mythology that the law cannot play any part in union affairs. Despite that, the Rip Van Winkles of the Labour Party keep chanting their litany of hatred against the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, like an obsolete tribe of ancient Druids intoning an antediluvian creed.
If some form of limited inducement of the kind proposed is not accepted the Labour Party will be putting itself into a position in which parties of past centuries found themselves when upholding the Divine Right of Kings and the Benefit of Clergy, arguing that one privileged section of society should be above the law. That is the logical outcome of what has been said by the Labour Party throughout these debates. The time has come to say robustly that law and the trade unions can be mentioned in the same sentence. My hon. Friend has proposed only a small step towards making the amendment enforceable. I suggest that hon. Members support the amendment.
§ Mr. Madel
We have again to emphasise that for industrial relations and trade union matters there has always been a place for the law, which the trade unions have used to help themselves and to ensure that the law is carried out. I think particularly of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which is protecting trade unionists and which unionists will not hesitate to use if it is breached.
1451 The Secretary of State keeps saying that it the charter were breached, and if great difficulties occurred in the Press, he would intervene, but that he cannot possibly yet say what form his intervention would take. By then it may be too late. Newspapers or periodicals could be forced to close because of a breach of the charter. The Secretary of State knows how long it takes to get legislation through the House.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman again to consider the points that we have made, about the need to strengthen the charter and to give it teeth, before he says that we are not to worry, because there will be some form of law—but not yet. We are not proposing new, rigid statute laws. All we are doing is strengthening common law and giving the unions involved in the Press the chance to argue their case fairly in court. Who can say how the courts will interpret objections to and breaches of the charter, and how they will or will not strengthen it? Many members of the NUJ want this charter to have some teeth, and not to be so vague as to be hopelessly meaningless.
I hope that the Secretary of State will consider paragraph (c) of Amendment No. 6 and realise that this is not rigid industrial relations law but pretty loose common law. Surely it will give the NUJ or any other union in the newspaper industry the chance to argue whether a particular matter in the charter, or any agreement or breach, is contrary to public policy. No one can say that we are trying to put any union in a straightjacket. We are giving unions the chance to argue on an equal footing. We cannot have a situation in which there was no law in industrial relations. In many ways the trade unions welcome the law when it gives them some protection, collectively or individually.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I had an embarrassing time today trying to explain the Secretary of State's policy to two journalists who had assumed that the Goodman amendments would be accepted. I asked one of my hon. Friends whether I was wrong in assuming that they would not be immediately accepted—I expect that there will be a change of heart now-only to find that I was right. For the life of me, I could think 1452 of no sensible reason for the Government's refusing to accept them.
I can see no point in this famous charter unless it has strength. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) talked about Rip Van Winkles and Druids. I can only repeat a description that I heard at a dinner the other day: "The trouble is, the Labour Government's sacred cows have their backs to the wall and have not noticed the wind of change". That remark, which might be more logical in an agricultural debate, still has relevance to this debate. The Government are sheltering behind a wall of prejudice and do not notice what is going on. Ministers are chewing the cud of complacency in the face of sensible opposition by many people in their own professions. I have done my best to defend the Government today. I hope that they will accept the amendments and make it easier for me to do so in future.
§ Mr. Bulmer
My hon. Friend asked why the Secretary of State could not see the writing on the wall. The answer is that he has his back to it.
The debate has emphasised only too clearly the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior).
Had a Royal Commission examined the dangers that have been expressed, had it separated the paper tigers from the others, had it set out and concentrated our minds on the dangers and been composed of people with real knowledge and insight, we should be facing this matter more squarely than we are this evening.
My hon. Friends and many people outside this House believe that the Secretary of State is not prepared to invoke the law to give backing to what has been agreed by both sides to be "reasonable conduct". If we move away from the law as the defence of proper conduct, what is there left? The Secretary of State is far too good a constitutional historian not to know what people such as Lord Justice Coke felt about the situation. Those who are aware of the growth of prerogative, whether it be the Crown, as it was in the days of Lord Justice Coke, or the trade unions today, will know that it is essential for the law to hedge round the ambitions of the sometimes over-mighty subject.
1453 Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will think once more whether it would not be a demonstration of his good faith if he allowed the charter to have some teeth. Perhaps he will remind himself "I have told the House that if the situation deteriorates I will bring forward new measures". In the past his right hon. Friends have expressed good intentions which they have been unable to live up to. One of the most noticeable was "In Place of Strife". It is inconceivable to believe that we could have trade union legislation today without the backing of the Donovan Commission. Equally, we cannot properly protect the rights and liberties of the Press without the backing of a Royal Commission. Will the Secretary of State consider whether, if the Government's income policy depended upon the consent of the trade unions which decided that they did not want this charter to have teeth, at the end of the day he could deliver the goods?
§ Mr. Foot
First, I want to comment on the remarks made by those hon. Members who have said that in some way or other the Labour Party has insisted on trade unions being "above the law". The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) was not so unwise as to use that phrase, but some of his Back-Bench followers were. I am glad that he did not do so, because it would be a most inaccurate explanation of the position. We have never claimed that trade unions should be above the law. Trade unions have never made such a claim, and we have never said that the law should not be interposed in union affairs.
It has sometimes been necessary, for the protection of freedom in this country, that there should be trade union legislation to deal with the development of the common law or its apparent application. Often in trade union history measures have been passed by this House and then the law has appeared to be changed. I know that we have to be careful what we say about the judges, even those of 100 years ago. However, after the law has been passed the judges seem to take their own view of these matters, and it appears that the purport of the law that has been passed by the Legislature has been altered. Then, very often, cam- 1454 paigns have been conducted and efforts made by the Labour and trade union movements to secure changes in the law and statutory provisions to ensure that those loopholes are closed or the difficulties overcome. For example, there were the Trade Disputes Act 1906, and the Trade Union Act 1913.
It might be said that the repeal of the Combination Acts originally was an intervention of the law, in the sense that it repealed those completely odious Acts, which had originally been introduced because of the operation of the law. Therefore, it is a semantic argument, of no purpose whatsoever, to say that the law should never intervene in this matter. What we are discussing now is whether there shall be law affecting these matters, and what it should be. Indeed, the Bill will be part of the law of the land when it eventually reaches the statute book.
We are not arguing that there should not be legal intervention. The question is, what kind of intervention? I know that Opposition Members are very sensitive to any mention of the 1971 Act. I shall do my best not to mention it again during the whole of my remarks.
§ Mr. Brittan
The objection is not to mentioning the 1971 Act. It is to mentioning it, first, inaccurately and, secondly, irrelevantly.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not see how anyone could mention it irrelevantly in the discussion of this matter. After all, this is a Bill partly for the repeal of the 1971 Act, so it could hardly be irrelevant to our discussion. As for the inaccurate references, I cannot recall any such inaccuracy, but I dare say that if the hon. Gentleman is diligent enough he may be able to discover some inaccuracy that no other hon. Member can bring to mind. However, I come to the remarks of the hon. Member, roughly in the sequence in which he introduced them.
The hon. Member started by saying that apparently we on the Government side of the House have now, belatedly become enamoured of the idea of a charter. He welcomed this advance as if he had been a passionate supporter of such a charter all along and had been dragged unwillingly along behind his chariot in this respect. However, the 1455 remarks that I made earlier this evening on this subject—I hope that I shall not be had up for tedious repetition on this account—were almost exactly the same as those I used on 12th February 1975, on Report. I shall forbear from quoting them to the House again, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that he would have been able to curtail that part of his remarks if he had recollected what I said then about the way in which I thought we should proceed—on the basis of this charter—and what I thought the charter could do for the whole matter that we were trying to deal with.
The hon. Gentleman said that what we need is a simple means of introducing enforcement. Whatever he may say about the provisions of Lord Goodman and others, they are not simple. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman, who has a far greater legal knowledge than I have, should have expanded to the House a little more on the question of why he has carried the Lord Goodman amendments beyond the provisions that Lord Goodman wished, at any rate at one stage, to have.
In view of the Opposition's claims that the effect of the amendment is so limited, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that the words "act or conduct" are in the amendment, as well as the words "rule" and "agreement"—which is as far as Lord Goodman originally proposed to go. Originally, Lord Goodman said "rule or agreement", and then the words "act or conduct" were introduced.
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, but we criticise the "act or conduct" provisions as carrying the possible effects of this clause very much further. They open up potentially a very wide field for legal action, going far beyond voiding the terms of contract. That has to be taken into account.
It is not a minor amendment, or what the hon. Gentleman described as "a simple means of introducing enforceability"; it is a very complicated provision. I think that I detected in the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks an understanding on his part that the words are obscure. He can hardly deny it, because Lord Goodman, the author of this amendment—in both forms—with "act or conduct" in, or in 1456 the more limited sense—has on a number of occasions referred to their ambiguity and obscurity. The hon. Gentleman offers the excuse of saying that this is due only to the fact that the Opposition are seeking a half-way house to accommodate the Government and therefore the Government must be held responsible for the ambiguity or obscurity.
At any rate, we are agreed that the amendment that the hon. Gentleman is asking the House to accent is the conclusion to the whole issue of enforceability, which has been central to our discussions. What he is asking the House to accept on his testimony, on Lord Goodman's testimony, and on my testimony, is something that is obscure, ambiguous and uncertain in its operation. It seems wrong that the House should deal with such an important matter in such a way. We are against interpolating into the law—especially as the effective means of dealing with the central part of the Bill—something that is, as the hon. Gentleman admits, obscure.
§ Mr. Brittan
Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to put forward at a later stage some clear governmental means of enforceability?
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I shall try to deal with that aspect, but first I believe it is my duty to make clear our objections to the way in which these matters are proposed to be inserted in the Bill. This is a matter of major consequence. I wish to state these facts quite clearly for the benefit of the House and of another place.
The amendment would create new legal liabilities over a wide area. Constitutional questions concerning the way in which new legal responsibilities arise apart, it is unacceptable to the Government, in principle, for any person in the newspaper industry to incur, because of the existence of the charter, additional legal responsibilities that do not apply outside the industry in similar circumstances.
If the objections on legal and constitutional grounds and on the ground of principle are not enough, there are ample objections on practical grounds for resisting the amendment. It cannot operate if there is no charter on Press freedom. In that event there will be no safeguards for Press freedom, enforceable or 1457 exemplary, ineffective or effective. But if the charter's provisions are to create new legal liabilities, that is the surest way possible of ensuring that the parties in the industry will not agree upon an effective and comprehensive charter. If the Secretary of State has to produce a charter there will be at least 18 months' delay before it can be issued. In the meantime, there will be no safeguards. If the charter comes from the Secretary of State rather than the industry, the basis on which it would most effectively secure Press freedom—namely, co-operation, agreement and acceptance—will be lost. Legal actions by individuals to secure redress for themselves, as individuals, cannot effectively secure Press freedom.
As I have already emphasised, one notable feature of the amendment—I should have thought the constitutional purists who have contributed to these discussions might have taken this into account—is the uncertainty that will exist as to the extent to which it creates new legal liabilities. The courts would have no discretion to say what was and was not contrary to public policy; that would be determined by the as yet unknown contents of the charter. The only point at issue for the courts to decide would be whether or not a particular rule, agreement, conduct or act conflicted with the charter. They would have no discretion thereafter on the question whether such an act should be voided on account of the conflict, or on the question whether the conflict was detrimental to public policy.
In the way in which the hon. Gentleman advanced his proposition I thought that I detected his own doubts. I do not believe that he has very much confidence in what he has proposed. I make it clear that we have no objection to the second part of the amendment, which refers to common law reference, although, as we have argued on many occasions, we think it superfluous when it provides thatnothing in the charter shall be taken to restrict or abridge any right existing by statute or common law.We do not think that that is necessary, but I make it clear that we are not objecting to that provision as being an obstacle.
The obstacle arises in respect of paragraph (c) 1458any rule, agreement, act or conduct which is contrary to the provisions of the charter shall be deemed to be contrary to public policy …The Lord Chancellor in the other place gave his view on the matter, and I am sure that he gave it the fullest consideration. He spelt out the legal difficulties arising from the novel approach and uncertain effect of public policy.
It would be most unwise for this House, and, indeed, for Parliament as a whole, to seek to legislate in an irresponsible way and to ignore the advice given by the Lord Chancellor. That advice is to the effect that nobody would know for certain what would be the result of the law, when it could be invoked, and how far-ranging it would be. That is not only the view of the Lord Chancellor; in the main it was confirmed by Lord Goodman in the description of his amendment. This is a novel kind of proposal for dealing with the matter but it is a proposal which, on the face of it, has not been thought out at all. Therefore, however we seek to solve the problem. I do not believe that it can be solved in the way suggested in the amendment. I emphasise that all these arguments were pointed out in another place by the Lord Chancellor.
When the House of Lords, on rare occasions in its history, decides to use its veto power to disrupt proposals sent there by this House, and when a measure is returned to this House, there is surely a responsibility on those who seek to advance such a proposition that goes against the previous decision of the House of Commons to present us with propositions that are at least clear. Instead, we have the exact opposite.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) tended to hide behind the shoulders of Lord Goodman. Admittedly, if one is seeking to shelter behind anybody's shoulders, it would be of some advantage to choose Lord Goodman's. But, even so, those shoulders are not big enough to hide this deficiency.
The Opposition should have undertaken a little work on this topic. It is not good enough for them to say "We shall produce what Lord Goodman has said and present those propositions to the House of Commons because we cannot think of anything better".
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Perhaps I may take the opportunity to peek round Lord Goodman and put one matter to the Secretary of State for Employment. I fully appreciate the difficulty that the charter is not yet in existence and that by the time the amendment is effective the charter will exist and public policy can be related to it. The Secretary of State will appreciate that the traditional rôle of the courts is not to promulgate public policy, because they are chary of carrying out that job for the Legislature and the Executive. However, in identifying and interpreting public policy they will be helped, because public policy in this instance would be defined in the charter and its contents would be known and approved.
§ Mr. Foot
We are asked to buy a legal pig in a poke. We are being asked to say that it shall be contrary to public policy for something to be done that is contrary to a charter that has not yet been devised. It would be a novel procedure for the House of Commons to seek to take that step—a step to which objection will surely be taken.
Does the Secretary of State agree that that is somewhat misleading, because the charter has no effect until it is approved by the House? Although we are saying that contravention of the charter shall be in breach of public policy, we are not buying a pig in a poke, because we are not saying what will amount to a breach of public policy until we have seen the charter and approved it.
§ Mr. Foot
That is all the more reason for not writing into the original proposal on public policy a provision the meaning of which nobody exactly knows. Surely what we write into such a provision should advance the situation, and be to some purpose. We know why Lord Goodman wants to include such a provision. He wants to make the charter as legally binding as possible—and, indeed, that is what Conservative Members want to secure. We believe that if that is the case, and if the House of Commons and Parliament agree, it should be done clearly and in such a way that everybody knows exactly what we are doing.
Despite criticisms made of us to the effect that we have made concessions on 1460 lesser matters, we are saying that we are not prepared to make this part of the provision subject to legal enactment. We want legal enactment in other spheres, but we are not prepared to allow the law to enforce this kind of edict.
If the Opposition want a proposition that contradicts that, they should present a clear proposition and not one that is ambiguous and obscure, even on the testimony of those who produced it and on the confirmation of the intervention by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East. Such a proposition as this should not be placed on the statute book. The Opposition here and in the House of Lords had a multitude of opportunities to produce alternatives.
When we have a situation in which a constitutional crisis arises from difference between this House and another place—some of us regard the intervention of the House of Lords in the repeated decisions of the House of Commons as a constitutional crisis—the onus is on the official Opposition to take account of that situation and produce their own remedy. They may not agree that it is a constitutional crisis, but it is certainly a constitutional rarity, and the onus on them is very strong indeed. Instead, they have produced a formula which, on every previous test, has been shown to be unworkable and to be one that should not be on the statute book. In that sense they have not produced a proposition that is worth considering.
I do not want to go over old ground again. I know how sensitive the Opposition are about their unmentionable Act. Nothing would make me happier than never having to mention the 1971 Act again before my dying day. We are getting nearer to that delectable moment, and the quicker the House allows this Bill through, the sooner I shall take the vow never to mention that Act again.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
It is such a pity that the right hon. Gentleman tries to rescue himself from his difficulties by misrepresenting what we say about the law and then makes such outrageous statements about it himself. I know he will forgive me if I take a minute or two to enlarge on that, as has so often been the task of lawyers on this side in the past.
1461 The right hon. Gentleman trotted out some of his old phrases about our referring to unions being above the law. What we complain at from time to time is the way in which he and his right hon. Friends seek, in so many instances, to put trade unionists beyond the law to a degree which I do not believe they want or expect. I am happy to echo the tributes paid by my hon. Friends to trade unions in this respect. With the exception of the conduct of some—not all—trade unionists in relation to the Industrial Relations Act in which they were egged on by the Labour Party for political purposes, the record of trade unions in the field of the law is one of which they can be justly proud.
There have been many cases in which orders have been made against trade unionists in the High Court. Without exception they have been carried out. In many cases, when applications have been made for injunctions unions have given official undertakings in place of the injunctions and the terms of the undertakings have been scrupulously carried out. There was no suggestion in any of those cases that unions or unionists did not owe the same responsibilities and obligations as other people to the courts.
The Secretary of State must stop misrepresenting what we say on that score. I am extremely happy to echo tributes paid by my hon. Friends to the respect constantly shown by one union after another for the law, save and except when a union is egged on by Labour Members to break the law.
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would stop this nonsense about the law being bad because of the way it is interpreted by judges. Law is bad because it is bad when it leaves this place, and that sets the judges the impossible task of interpretation. We must stop complaining about the interpretation which the courts put on particular legislation. They would not have to interpret it anyway if it was clear when it left this House.
The Secretary of State used an expression which I think even he will agree is a silly way to talk about the law. He said—I wrote down his precise words—that he and his Government were not prepared to allow the law to enforce this kind of edict. Governments do not allow 1462 the law to do anything. The law does what we in Parliament say it should do. The law is simply a code that we lay down and is interpreted and enforced impartially by the courts, to the great credit of this country, as has been the case for so long.
§ Mr. Lee
Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman being a little disingenuous? Is it not true to say that although, in a strict sense, the judges do no more than interpret what we do, there are idiosyncrasies in the way some judges perform that task? Perhaps I may give an example, which is not in any way mentioned pejoratively. The present Master of the Rolls has a reputation for a liberal and imaginative interpretation of the law which has not always conformed with the views of his colleagues and has not always met with their approval.
§ Mr. Percival
If we leave large uncertainties to be interpreted by judges, we must accept that judges are not all from one mould and that they will interpret the law according to what they believe to be the meaning and intention of Parliament. If we want to avoid that, we should consider what we mean to say in our legislation before we pass it, and then we would make quite certain that those idiosyncrasies did not occur—if they occur to the extent the hon. Member suggests.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that all the decisions of judges on industrial relations matters, from the Taff Vale judgment right through to Rookes v. Barnard were made by objective judges in terms of legislation which was incomplete? Is he asking me to believe that?
§ Mr. Percival
Yes, I am, and without qualification. Many of us have spent a good deal of our time fairly close to what the hon. Member is talking about, and the one thing we know is that the administration of justice in this country is objective and impartial. It will not do for the Secretary of State and his colleagues simply to criticise what is being put forward in the amendment. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have overlooked the fact that the need for the charter arises out of what the Government are doing. But for their legislation, the charter would 1463 not be required. That being so, the obligation is upon the Government to find a way of giving the Charter some meaning and effect.
One of my hon. Friends asked "What is the use of a charter without force behind it?" Does not that simple little question sum up the whole of this argument? If we could rely upon moral pressures, good will, and a willingness to obey all the terms of the charter, there would hardly be any need at all for a charter—or for any laws.
Why is it to be said that in this area, where such a long time is being taken in hammering out anything that can be agreed and where there has been such full and lengthy discussion on what is needed, there is no need for the charter to have any teeth in it? We have only to look that question straight in the eye to see how silly it is. There is no point in having a charter without some force behind it.
Having got that far, the next question is: upon whom rests the obligation to bring forward means of giving it teeth, whether it be a sacred cow, a paper tiger or a pig? The obligation must be upon those who have caused the necessity for it to bring forward measures and ideas for giving effect to what they propose.
The Secretary of State has referred to some technical difficulties in what is proposed, but my hon. friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) himself referred to those difficulties in introducing the amendment. I hope that, looking back on it, the Secretary of State will agree that it was a very fair introduction.
We are in some difficulty because we do not have the back-up that is available to the Government to help us in solving the Government's problems. We have very fairly said to the Government "These are some of the difficulties that we foresee. You may foresee others. Put your cards on the table and accept that there is need for something like this. Use all the forces at your command to help find a solution." In answer to that very civil, sensible and generous invitation we get nothing but waffle and hot air, as usual.
§ Mr. Foot
The matter could easily have been sorted out. The Opposition 1464 could have said "Look at this unholy botch that Lord Goodman has produced from the House of Lords. Everyone knows that it is no good. Cannot we think of something better than that?" If that question had been asked, surely something better could have been produced.
§ Mr. Percival
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that everybody should have done something about it except himself and those whom he had at his disposal. That is crazy. The Government accept the need for some such charter. I do not think they would have put down their proposal if they did not accept the need for it. It is difficult to think that they really believe that no back-up is necessary for it.
Reduced to very simple terms, it is quite clear that the obligation rests upon the Government to put forward proposals, particularly if they say that all the proposals put forward by others are wrong. Let them put forward some better proposals. Unless and until they do so, I hope that the House will show what it thinks of them by voting for the only proposals that it has before it—the very sensible ones put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the amendments.
§ Mr. Prior
I should like to wind up the debate by saying a few words as a non-lawyer. May I say to the Secretary of State, as one non-lawyer to another, that I have noticed from many experiences across the Front Benches that when we discuss legal intricacies the right hon. Gentleman either resorts to abuse or puts his head down and reads out his notes as fast as he can. Perhaps I can talk to him in non-lawyer's language which he will understand.
The right hon. Gentleman claimed that Lord Goodman's amendment was a botch. If he considered it to be a botch and was prepared to accept something else instead, there was nothing to stop him putting down something else. From what he said, the supposition is that the Government did not like Lord Goodman's amendment because it was a botch and they would have accepted something else. I suspect that he would not have accepted something else because he is determined to have a charter which in no circumstances can be enforced.
1465 I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman this problem which arises on an enforceable charter. In past debates some Labour Members said that they wanted to give the charter a chance but that if it did not work they would want to come back in a year's time and expect the charter to be given teeth. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) put forward that argument in a constructive speech at an earlier stage in our discussions last Session. If that happened, the Government would have to introduce teeth along the lines suggested by Lord Goodman or along the lines suggested by Lord Hailsham in another place. That would entirely refute the arguments produced by the Lord Chancellor in another place that there is no place for the law in this type of activity.
I draw the House's attention to what Lord Lloyd of Hampstead said on the subject. He does not take the Conservative Whip; I think he takes the Labour Whip. He is an eminent lawyer and is well versed in these matters. About this amendment he said:The merits of the Amendment are simple; it introduces no new statutory cause of action and no new statutory right of any kind. It simply seeks to make a resounding declaration in favour of certain developments that the Common Law has been undergoing in the last 20 years or so, and gives the courts some encouragement to pursue that line".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3rd November 1975; Vol. 365, c. 954.]Lord Lloyd was in no doubt about the effect of the amendment. It introduces no new statutory cause of action but merely airs the common law. He went on to say that the courts and the judges had a remarkable, successful and good relationship in their dealings with the law relating to industrial relations over the last 25 years, and that in his recollection there had been only one case—Rookes v. Barnard—in which he believed that mistakes were made.
I believe that to be the attitude of the trade union movement. We do not do the trade union movement justice. It is rather insulting to trade unionists to feel that they cannot go to the courts and defend themselves in the way that we all know they can. It is an insult to them to be put into a position in which the law can have no effect.
1466 The right hon. Gentleman and Labour Members have spent much time saying that we are trying to reinsert parts of the old Industrial Relations Act 1971.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas indicated assent.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Prior
I see the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), who has referred to that matter in earlier speeches, nods his head in agreement. Of course, one reason why Lord Goodman chose this particular form for his amendment was not to get the statute law involved in this issue but to be as conciliatory as possible and at the same time find a way of providing a remedy where the law was broken or seemed likely to be broken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), in a sentence which will certainly go on the record, said that the Rip Van Winkles on the Government Benches kept chanting the ancient litanies of their creed. My goodness, they have had a run on the Industrial Relations Act. If Labour Members really believe that what concerns the trade union movement at present is the abolition of the last vestiges of the Industrial Relations Act, their understanding is different from mine. They may have got rid of the Industrial Relations Act, but look at the unemployment they have got instead. If they ask any trade unionist or worker in Britain whether he is more interested in sweeping away that law or in having a situation in which jobs are provided, there is no doubt about his answer. The truth is that the Government have failed to provide not only employment, but the answers to protecting the freedom of the Press.
For those reasons, we believe that these amendments must be put into the charter if it is to have any meaning. I cannot for the life of me believe that many Labour Members are not worried about what the Government are proposing to do. We know that for months the Cabinet was unable to make up its mind whether proper conditions should be written into the charter. It took the Government from April to October to reach any decision, and there were leaks in the Press about how many Cabinet Ministers were for and against. It is a 1467 disgrace to the House that we should put through this charter without proper remedies being made available to someone who feels aggrieved. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members on the
§ Opposition side will support us in the Lobby.
§ Question put that the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 298.1471
|Division No. 32]||AYES||[9.50 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Fox, Marcus||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Freud, Clement||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Alison, Michael||Fry, Peter||Madel, David|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Arnold, Tom||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Marten, Neil|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mates, Michael|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Maude, Angus|
|Baker, Kenneth||Glyn, Dr Alan||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Banks, Robert||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Mawby, Ray|
|Beith, A. J.||Goodhart, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Bell, Ronald||Goodhew, Victor||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Goodlad, Alastair||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Gorst, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Benyon, W.||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mills, Peter|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Biffen, John||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gray, Hamish||Moate, Roger|
|Blaker, Peter||Grieve, Percy||Monro, Hector|
|Body, Richard||Griffiths, Eldon||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Grist, Ian||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Hall, Sir John||Morgan, Geraint|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hampson, Dr Keith||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Brittan, Leon||Hannam, John||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Mudd, David|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hastings, Stephen||Neave, Airey|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Havers, Sir Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hawkins, Paul||Neubert, Michael|
|Buchanan-Smith Alick||Hayhoe, Barney||Newton, Tony|
|Buck, Antony||Hicks, Robert||Nott, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Holland, Philip||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hooson, Emlyn||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Burden, F.A||Hordern, Peter||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Howell, David (Guildford)||Pardoe, John|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Channon, Paul||Hunt, John||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hurd, Douglas||Penhaligon, David|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Percival Ian|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Clegg, Walter||James, David||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Cockcroft, John||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Jessel, Toby||Raison, Timothy|
|Cope, John||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Corrie, John||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Costain, A. P.||Jopling, Michael||Renton Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Crouch, David||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Kilfedder, James||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Knight, Mrs Jill||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Knox, David||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Durant, Tony||Lamont, Norman||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Dykes, Hugh||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Latham, Michael (Melton)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Lawson, Nigel||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Emery, Peter||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Silvester, Fred|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lloyd, Ian||Sims, Roger|
|Farr, John||Loveridge, John||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fell, Anthony||Luce, Richard||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||McCrindle, Robert||Spence, John|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macfarlane, Neil||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||MacGregor, John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Sproat, Iain|
|Stainton, Keith||Townsend, Cyril D.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Trotter, Neville||Wells, John|
|Stanley, John||Tugendhat, Christopher||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Stokes, John||Vaughan, Dr Gerard||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Viggers, Peter||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Tapsell, Peter||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Taylor, Toddy (Cathcart)||Wakeham, John||Young, Sir G. (Eating, Acton)|
|Tebbit, Norman||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Wall, Patrick||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant|
|Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Walters, Dennis|
|Abse, Leo||Doig, Peter||Kelley, Richard|
|Allaun, Frank||Dormand, J. D.||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Anderson, Donald||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Kinnock, Neil|
|Archer, Peter||Duffy, A. E. P.||Lambie, David|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dunlop, John||Lamborn, Harry|
|Ashley, Jack||Dunn, James A.||Lamond, James|
|Ashton, Joe||Dunnett, Jack||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Eadie, Alex||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Atkinson, Norman||Edge, Geoff||Lee, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||English, Michael||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Bates, Alf||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Litterick, Tom|
|Bean, R. E.||Faulds, Andrew||Loyden, Eddie|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Luard, Evan|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Flannery, Martin||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson|
|Boardman, H.||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Booth, Albert||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacCormick, Iain|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McCusker, H.|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Ford, Ben||McElhone, Frank|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Forrester, John||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Bradley, Tom||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Freeson, Reginald||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Buchan, Norman||George, Bruce||McNamara, Kevin|
|Buchanan, Richard||Gilbert, Dr John||Madden, Max|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Ginsburg, David||Magee, Bryan|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Golding, John||Mahon, Simon|
|Campbell, Ian||Gould, Bryan||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gourlay, Harry||Marks, Kenneth|
|Cant R. B||Graham, Ted||Marquand, David|
|Carmichael, Neil||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Carson John||Grant, John (Islington C)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Carter, Ray||Grocott, Bruce||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Meacher, Michael|
|Cartwright, John||Hardy, Peter||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mendelson, John|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Millan, Bruce|
|Cohen, Stanley||Henderson, Douglas||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Hooley, Frank||Molloy, William|
|Concannon, J.D.||Horam, John||Molyneaux, James|
|Conlan, Bernard||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Corbett, Robin||Huckfield, Les||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Moyle, Roland|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Murry, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Crawford, Douglas||Hunter, Adam||Newens, Stanley|
|Crawford, Douglas||Hunter, Adam||Noble, Mike|
|Cronin, John||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Oakes, Gordon|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Ogden, Eric|
|Cryer, Bob||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Janner, Greville||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Ovenden, John|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Owen, Dr David|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||John, Brynmor||Padley, Walter|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Deakins, Eric||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Park, George|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds W)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Parker, John|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geolfrey||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Parry, Robert|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Judd, Frank||Pendry, Tom|
|Dempsey, James||Kaufman, Gerald||Perry, Ernest|
|Phipps, Dr Colin||Silverman, Julius||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Skinner, Dennis||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Small, William||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Ward, Michael|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Snaps, Peter||Watkins, David|
|Radice, Giles||Spearing, Nigel||Watkinson, John|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Spriggs, Leslie||Watt, Hamish|
|Reid, George||Stallard, A. W.||Weetch, Ken|
|Richardson, Miss Jo||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Stoddart, David||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Stonehouse, Rt Hon John||White, James (Pollok)|
|Roderick, Caerwyn||Stott, Roger||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Strang, Gavin||Whitlock, William|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Rooker, J. W.||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Roper, John||Swain, Thomas||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Rose, Paul B.||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Ross, William (Londonderry)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Sandelson, Neville||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Thompson, George||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Selby, Harry||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Woodall, Alec|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Tierney, Sydney||Woof, Robert|
|Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Tinn, James||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Tomlinson, John||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Tomney, Frank|
|Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Tuck, Raphael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. Dulwich)||Urwin, T. W.||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Sillars, James||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.1473
§ It being after Ten o'clock, further proceedings on the motion stood adjourned.
That the Motions relating to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill (Suggested Amendments) may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Amendment to the Question proposed:
No. 8, in line 68, at end, add:
( ) A charter agreed as mentioned in subsection (1) above, or prepared by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (3) above, shall provide that no member of any trade union shall be fined, expelled from any union, prevented or suspended from holding office in any union or be otherwise penalised or victimised by reason of the fact that he had refused to strike or work to rule or had continued to work on any occasion.—[Sir David Renton.]
§ Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My understanding was—discussions went on before the debate started this afternoon—that, since the main Question was to be moved formally, at this stage the Secretary of State would say something and give us the opportunity to comment upon it. I hope he will do that.
§ Mr. Foot
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is correct, as the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) has said, that there were discussions and it was agreed that if the Opposition wished to continue the discussion on the main motion this would be a convenient time to do it. I would have thought that most of the matters to be discussed had been dealt with in the earlier debate, but it is up to hon. Members to raise anything further. As I understand it, the motion has been formally moved.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was suggested in the discussions we held earlier that a Minister would be talking on the main motion at this stage. I can understand it if the Government are not now 1474 willing to say what they intended to say when we mentioned this earlier.
Having disposed of the amendments, we are now in the situation that the House can make a suggestion to another place about an amendment which could be made to the Bill. The constitutional position, as I understand it, is that if the House agrees to the motion which is before us in the name of the Secretary of State, and if the other place accepts the Bill with that amendment, the Bill will automatically become law after Royal Assent without having to come back here. In other words their Lordships would make the amendment to the Bill, and there would be no need for it to come back here. As I understand the constitutional position, they would be entitled to suggest other amendments, and there could then be a movement between the two Houses.
I have no idea what the other place may decide. Once the motion is passed by this House, another place will have the option at any time, even if it is making other suggestions, to accept the suggested amendment, and the Bill with that amendment would become law. We should examine the implications. We are moving close towards agreeing a charter which, by any standards, everyone agrees will be unenforceable and the provisions of which will be largely indeterminate.
Perhaps the optimist's views will come to pass and the various parties concerned will get together and produce a successful and satisfactory charter which will come to the House for our approval. If they do, I have little doubt that at least some Labour Members will do their best to undermine and render ineffective its provisions. But let us be optimistic and say that they do not succeed in that. Let us say that the House as a whole approves a successful and reasonable charter.
One could continue one's optimism and envisage a tribunal which is set up but which has little to do, with no claims being made that there have been breaches of the charter because it is being honoured by all concerned. If matters go to the tribunal, however, one can continue to be optimistic by envisaging the parties accepting its decisions. That 1475 is the optimistic scenario which members of the Manifesto Group believe will come to pass. They believe that if it does, it will make a contribution towards safeguarding the freedom of the Press.
But one must look at the more pessimistic scenario, in which the parties cannot agree on a successful charter. On some of the most important issues there will be a division. All the evidence available suggests that that is not a remote possibility. There is a chance that when the people concerned get round the table they will find it impossible to come to an agreement on some of the provisions. They might then indicate areas where they believe that the charter should be endorsed by the House and other areas where they feel that the Secretary of State's writ will have to run.
Or perhaps we shall end up with no agreement. Under the reserve provisions of the right hon. Gentleman's motion, if nothing has happened after 12 months the Secretary of State will be entitled to place a charter before the House. Careful consideration needs to be given to what could happen then. The provisions might have to be implemented by a different Secretary of State. The present Secretary of State may have gone. His Government may be in office but he may have another post. We may have had a General Election by the time the parties have failed to agree. I assume that Labour Members would be worried about giving such a power to a Secretary of State in a Government of a different complexion.
The Secretary of State should not rest on the formal proposition and the fact that we dealt earlier with specific provisions about the contents of the charter and whether it should be enforceable. The House should know his views if matters do not go according to the optimistic plan. What sort of time scale does he envisage after receiving a report that the parties cannot agree after a year of consultation? How will he discharge that responsibility?
It is absurd to expect us to give a future Secretary of State such a power without knowing how this will be done. Will the Government have formal consultations with the bodies concerned or will they do it behind closed doors and then tell Parliament to take it or leave it? The Immigration Rules, for instance, were 1476 laid in draft and the Government took into account views expressed in debates upon them. Is that what the Secretary of State has in mind? It is wrong to give this major power to a Secretary of State, subject only to affirmative resolution, without hearing a word from the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that it is unfair to insist on some explanation, and I hope that he has had time to collect his thoughts.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
If the House of Lords rejects the Bill, it will become law nevertheless since it will have passed this House in the form in which it was previously rejected, but under the proviso of the Parliament Act it can nevertheless be changed if their Lordships adopt the suggestion in the new clause dealing with the charter. The House of Lords can accept or reject that addition but no more.
Can the House of Lords amend the new clause? Can it have the same sort of discussion that has taken place in this Chamber today? If it can have a discussion on amendments to the clause, are those amendments, if their Lordships choose to pass them, within the proviso of the Parliament Act?
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) is certainly not unfair in the way in which he has phrased the question. It is perfectly true that conversations took place in which it was suggested that we should have further discussions after we had dealt with the amendments. On the other hand, I was under the impression that the debates on the amendments covered most of the ground. Therefore, although the procedure is fairly novel—I must not use the word "revolutionary" because it is offensive—I thought that there was some likeness between the kind of elaborate Committee debates that would take place on a series of amendments and a debate on the new clause. If the debates on the amendments had been so exhaustive that they covered almost the whole area, there would, I believe have been little left for debate on the clause.
It has been suggested that we should be passing this Press charter without saying a word. That is an extraordinary comment to make taking into account the mountain of words that has been poured 1477 out on this matter over the past year. The way in which a Press charter might operate has been a theme throughout our debates.
There have been only a few minor changes of words in the new clause that we now propose. Those alterations of wording do not make any difference to its substance. Therefore, we are not presenting a new approach to the way in which the charter should be discussed and how the Secretary of State would have to take action about the charter if there were no agreement between the parties.
All those possibilities have been discussed. Whether Conservative Members or other hon. Members like the possibilities there is no case for saying that there has not been ample opportunity for their discussion. We shall do everything in our power to ensure that discussions about the charter are successful.
The National Union of Journalists has already made it clear that it is eager to help, and at the time of the failure of the House of Lords to pass the Bill that union once again took the initiative of proposing that discussion should take place. Some other parties thought that it was premature to hold discussions while the Bill was going through the House. I hope that other parties will be eager to have discussions, particularly when the Bill has completed its passage through the House. I understand the attitude of those who have been reticent about having discussions because they believe that the final terms of the Bill have to be decided, but I do not think that it is justified. Therefore, I hope that the optimistic alternative described by the hon. Gentleman will be accepted and will be the way in which we proceed.
It is true that it is possible that that will not happen, and that is why the alternative was introduced at an early stage some months ago. That was the alternative proposition of the Government having to produce the proposals for a charter. They still have to have consultations about it, incidentally, even though the other consultations have broken down. That proposal was introduced as an alternative several months ago, no doubt partly in order to encourage the first possibility of the discussions succeeding. There were also discussions about the time limit, and we were as accommodating as we could be.
1478 As I have emphasised many times, we certainly do not want a situation in which a charter has to be imposed by the Government in any sense. That is why we limited the period in which time would be available for discussions. I believe that that was sensible. It is for all those reason that I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have dealt with the previous position.
I come to the hon. Gentleman's questions about the House of Lords. The Bill will go from this House to the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Having got to the point of saying that it is hoped that the optimistic option will be followed, the Secretary of State did not go on to deal with what will happen if that goes sour and what procedures will then be followed. How does he envisage himself discharging the responsibilities if the parties concerned do not come to an agreement?
§ Mr. Foot
That is not a matter which should be covered in other than general terms in the new clause before us. I think that to go into detailed provisions about how every move should be made and how every report should be made to the House of Commons seems to be a quite unnecessary way to proceed and might inhibit the proper way of proceeding. If there is a breakdown, that will depend partly on the manner in which the breakdown takes place. Clearly the Government would intervene, and any Minister would presumably take account of how the breakdown occurred and how it could be repaired. Some repair of the situation would be necessary if the clause were to be fulfilled.
I should not have thought that that was a matter which should be spelt out beyond the way in which it has already been spelt out. Some may criticise us for having made the provision too extensive. Some of my hon. Friends have put that point of view previously. None the less, we are safeguarded against the serious danger which my hon. Friends have feared—that there should be some legal provision of backing. Once again today, that has been rejected by the House of Commons by a substantial majority.
Therefore, I hope now that the House, including those who would have preferred to have the legal backing, will 1479 agree to accept the clause and to back the charter as it stands.
I come now to the questions raised by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). I do not want to make prophecies. It is perfectly possible, particularly as the House of Commons has declared itself for the third or fourth time so emphatically on this matter, that the House of Lords will accept the situation and that the matter will then be dealt with without the Parliament Act being applied. That may be the best way for the matter to proceed. The House of Lords could accept the new clause. That would be the simplest way, because there would then not be all the great difficulties that might arise under the Parliament Act.
However, if the House of Lords chose to insist upon its opposition to the Bill and we had to invoke the Parliament Act, unless the House of Lords agreed also to the part that we are dealing with now, it would not form part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Foot
The House of Lords could have discussions about the amendment. There may be some way of amending it—with the concurrence of the House of Commons, perhaps, in which case the Parliament Act need not be invoked. That is a different way of proceeding. However, if the House of Lords insisted upon its opposition again, the same kind of opposition upon which it has insisted previously, we should have to invoke the Parliament Act and ensure that it enabled the measure to go on to the statute book. I am sure that all hon. Members understand that if that were to occur this part of the Bill could be jeopardised and we would have to proceed by some other means. However, we hope that that will not arise. We hope that these factors will be taken into account in another place.
§ Mr. Cryer
I think it would be helpful at this stage if my right hon. Friend could assure the House that if the extremists in another place seek yet again to oppose the wishes of the elected majority in this place, which tonight has demonstrated again and again by massive majorities that it has the will to enact the Bill, they will not be part of the overmanning prob- 1480 lem which is so often mentioned by Conservative Members in that they will all be joining the ranks of the unemployed.
§ Mr. Foot
I have the greatest sympathy with my hon. Friend's philosophic views but I am sure that, like myself, he wishes to see this measure on the statute book as speedily as possible.
One of the concerns that we have all felt is that the argument about the Press has prevented the Bill from getting on to the statute book when it should have done. I am as impatient as my hon. Friend, and, because of that impatience and because of our desire to see the Bill, including these provisions, on the statute book as swiftly as possible, I appeal to the other place—I think that this is the best way to leave matters in an attempt to obtain this change in the law as speedily as possible, this clause about the Press which has been accepted by majorities in this House on a number of occasions—to take account of what has been decided so frequently on this subject by this supreme House of Commons.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ New Clause (Freedom of the press)
§ After section 1 of the principal Act there shall be inserted the following section:
§ "Charter on freedom of the press
§ 1A.—(1) If, before the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the passing of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1975, there is agreed among parties including employers of journalists (or employers' associations representing such employers), editors (or editors' organisations), and trade unions representing journalists, a charter containing practical guidance for employers, trade unions and editors and other journalists on matters relating to the freedom of the press, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of that charter.
§ (2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, practical guidance on matters relating to the freedom of the press must include guidance on the avoidance of improper pressure to distort or suppress news, comment, or criticism, the application of union membership agreements to journalists (and in particular the right of editors to discharge their duties and to commission and to publish any article) and the question of access for contributors.
§ (3) If no such charter has been agreed as mentioned above, or if a draft charter laid 1481 before Parliament (under subsection (1) above or this subsection) is not approved by resolution of each House of Parliament as mentioned in subsection (6) below, the Secretary of State shall after consultation with the Press Council and such of the parties referred to in subsection (1) above, such organisations representing workers, and such organisations representing employers, as he thinks fit, prepare in draft a charter, as follows:—
- (a) where, or so far as, there appears to the Secretary of State to be agreement among the parties referred to in subsection (1) above on any matter relating to the freedom of the press, he shall incorporate in the draft charter such practical guidance as he thinks appropriate to give effect to that agreement;
- (b) where, so far as there appears to the Secretary of State to be no such agreement on any of the particular matters referred to in subsection (2) above, he shall incorporate in the draft charter such practical guidance on that matter as he thinks fit,
§ (4) A charter agreed as mentioned in subsection (1) above, or prepared by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (3) above, shall define its field of operation.
§ (5) A charter agreed as mentioned in subsection (1) above, or prepared by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (3) above, shall provide for the constitution of a body which shall have the functions of—
- (a) hearing any complaint by a person aggrieved by a failure on the part of any other person to observe any provision of the charter;
- (b) issuing to the parties a declaration as to whether such a complaint is well-founded; and
- (c) securing the publication of its decision.
§ (6) If a draft laid under subsection (1) or (3) above is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall issue the charter in the form of the draft.
§ (7) A charter for the time being in force under this section may be revised from time to time by agreement between such parties as are referred to in subsection (1) above, and the Secretary of State shall lay a draft of the revised charter before both Houses of Parliament.
§ (8) If a draft laid under subsection (7) above is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall issue the revised charter in the form of the draft.
§ (9) On issuing a charter or revised charter under subsection (6) or (8) above the Secretary of State shall make by statutory instrument an order specifying the date on which the charter or revised charter is to come into effect.
§ (10) A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of a charter which is for the time being in force under this section shall not of itself render him liable to any proceedings, but in any proceedings— 1482
- (a) any such charter shall be admissible in evidence, and
- (b) any provision of such a charter which appears to the court or tribunal to be relevant to any question arising in those proceedings shall be taken into account by the court or tribunal in determining that question."'.