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Press (Legislation)

Volume 895: debated on Thursday 17 July 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if the broadcast by the Secretary of State for Employment on legislation affecting the Press on 15th June represents official Government policy.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is in Brussels attending the EEC Heads of Government meeting and in his absence I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir.

Is the Lord President aware that in that broadcast the Secretary of State for Employment again championed legislation which would make it possible for one union to gain a powerful monopoly position over all areas of public communication? Does he realise that that monopoly will inevitably be exercised at the expense of all those who want to have access to the media but are not members of the monopoly National Union of Journalists? As the right of access to the media is such a fundamental one, should it not be protected by proper legal safeguards—not by codes and charters—and, best of all, by dropping the Bill altogether?

No, Sir, I do not agree with that. The Employment Protection Bill contains recognition provisions which will help the small unions, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at those provisions.

Will my right hon. Friend say what discussions have taken place with trade unions and employers concerning the important problem of access? In view of the vulnerable state of two newspapers in Fleet Street, will my right hon. Friend give instructions, through the chairman, to the Royal Commission on the Press to produce a shortened report? We are now running into a second year.

I shall pass on to the Prime Minister my hon. Friend's last suggestion. In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, my right hon. Friend has had numerous and continuing discussions on this matter over the past few weeks, but I cannot enumerate them off the cuff.

Is my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister aware that there is no valid reason why there should be one industrial relations law for the Press and another one for the rest of industry? Is he aware that many of us are fed up with the Government kowtowing to pressure from the Press and neglecting pressure from their own back benches? Will he tell the Press to take notice of its own editorials on law and order, and that if this law is passed by the House of Commons the Press will have to obey it?

There is complete unanimity between my hon. Friend and myself today. If what a large number of Opposition Members are advocating were done, there would be unfair discrimination against the newspaper industry.

As the Bill was regarded by the Government as urgent as long ago as last February and we still have not discussed the Lords amendment, would it not be better if the right hon. Gentleman accepted the view of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and allowed the matter to go before the Royal Commission on the Press so that a satisfactory arrangement could be reached which might even satisfy the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton)?

No, Sir. As I said, over the past few weeks my right hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time in discussions about the Lords amendment with many people in an effort to reach agreement. The Labour Government try to reach agreement on these matters, unlike Conservative Governments.