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Press (Royal Commission)

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

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asked the Prime Minister when he expects to announce the appointment of the new Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press.

I am grateful for that information. Is the Prime Minister aware of the increasing public concern which has been expressed about the freedom of the Press? Will he, in particular, take early steps to give evidence to the Royal Commission to ensure that it is aware of the need for those employed in the industry to have the right to belong to the trade union of their choice? Furthermore, will he ensure that editors employed in the industry have the right to select the material of their choice without censorship from those otherwise employed in the industry?

That is an important question. The House debated these matters last spring in what I believe most people felt was one of the most significant and constructive debates on this subject for many years. I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind the question of industrial relations legislation, which has been fully debated in the House and outside, and the House has taken decisions. It is not for me to go further into it today.

As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, the Royal Commission by its terms of reference has to deal with the freedom of the Press. If I could feel that the anxieties—I recognise that they are real—about the National Union of Journalists and the editorial position were the only threat to the freedom of the Press, we should be talking about a very different Press. Some of the main threats to the freedom of the Press are concerned with the danger of newspapers going out of existence—which has been very real in these last few days—and with proprietorial interference with the rights of those self-same newspapers. These are matters within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the influence of advertisers and politically motivated proprietors is infinitely more dangerous than anything which the NUJ might exert? I am sure that the Prime Minister supports his right hon. Friend in his approach to the "phoney" campaign that has been waged against him.

That accusation is often made about advertisers. I have not seen a great deal of evidence on this matter except for one or two suggestions recently of owners getting a good personal Press in "William Hickey" or not getting into "William Hickey" because of the switching of advertising. That is very trivial stuff. If it were thought that advertisers were using their economic power to interfere with the freedom of the Press, that would be eminently a matter for the Royal Commission. So is the question raised by my hon. Friend about proprietorial interference with editorial views.