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East Midland Allied Press

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the threatened strike of the National Union of Journalists arising from the dispute with the East Midland Allied Press."
I consider the matter urgent, Mr. Speaker. What was a dispute between one branch of the NUJ and one newspaper in the East Midland Allied Press group, which covers my constituency, is now in danger of affecting all provincial newspapers, especially with the suggestion that the Press Association is linked with the stoppage.

It is ironic that, after the original source of grievance had been settled, with the agreement of the appropriate TUC committee, a 24-hour stoppage, timed for 5 p.m. tomorrow, has been called. This will seriously affect the flow of information to the media and to the public. The fact that the county council elections are being held tomorrow indicates that the timing has been chosen deliberately to cause embarrassment and to attract attention, quite apart from preventing the public gaining full information about the results on Friday and quite apart from all other important news items.

I contend that an urgent debate is required. It is of national importance because it is a case in which a trade union, despite having already been granted sole negotiating rights, is seeking to enforce a closed shop where hitherto it has not existed. It threatens the livelihood of certain journalists who, although they have left the NUJ, have joined another union, namely, the Institute of Journalists.

I contend that if such action is allowed to go unchallenged the freedom of editors and of the Press in general will be endangered, to say nothing of the misery caused to certain individuals. There are indications that the dispute is being furthered for political ends, to endanger the viability of one newspaper group, which is a serious matter for all newspapers and their employees to consider.

There is a clear need for the Secretary of State for Employment to outline the Government's attitude to what is going on and to make a statement on their policy. I am surprised that we have not had such a statement before, hence my raising the matter this afternoon.

There are one or two other important issues which I should like quickly to touch upon. How, for example, did a notorious agitator manage to obtain an extension of his work permit in this country? Should journalists be forced to strike because they fear that, without a union card—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not now argue the case that he would advance if his application were granted.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I have already said enough for you to appreciate that the granting of a debate on this issue is important because of the long-term implications.

This House is the traditional last resort of those who feel that their liberties are being threatened. Without the opportunity to debate that threat, however, many of them will feel that their grievances have not been heard. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will allow the House time to discuss this important matter.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) gave me notice this morning that he proposed to make this application under Standing Order No. 9 this afternoon. I have listened with care to what he has said. As the House knows, under the revised Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision.

The hon. Gentleman's application relates to
"the threatened strike of the National Union of Journalists arising from the dispute with the East Midland Allied Press."
I have given careful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I have to rule that I cannot submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling, it is not a threatened strike; it is in fact a strike.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my particular area also, covering my constituency, it is in fact a strike, not a threatened strike.

I am much obliged for the information given me, but I cannot change my mind at the moment on the ruling I have already given. The hon. Member for Wellingborough referred to a "threatened" strike.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I might try to clear up this matter. I think that it will be helpful to everybody. There are two questions here. There is in fact a strike, and there has been for a considerable time, in the area that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) represents. The other matter is a threatened strike, which will be nation-wide and will be called tomorrow. There are, therefore, two questions involved here. I think that the Standing Order No. 9 application was in respect of a threatened strike. So on this occasion you are right on the ball, Mr. Speaker.

May I return the compliment? I should like to express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for the clarity and the kindness of his observation.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it also affects my area and the areas of a number of other Members, may I ask your guidance about whether the fact that this matter has been raised today does not prevent a request for a similar debate in the next few days if the situation should worsen?