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Volume 949: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for protecting journalists from the imposition of a closed shop.

The application of closed shop agreements to journalists is one of the matters which under the terms of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 must be covered in the draft charter of Press freedom which my right hon. Friend is required by that Act to prepare and submit to Parliament. However, I cannot yet say when it will be possible to lay a draft before Parliament.

Does the Minister recognise the need for protection of this kind and that this need is growing? When does he propose to introduce his draft Press charter, which has been hanging on for a very long time?

As regards the time, I think the House will recognise that it made sense to wait until the Royal Commission reported. It reported in June, since when I have personally conducted a very long series of consultations with the many representatives of both sides of the industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to give full consideration to all the views that have been expressed to me. I still wait to have consultations with the TUC, the CBI and the Press Council before the consultations can be concluded and before, therefore, we can propose a draft to Parliament.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the best protection that journalists had was when the present Government and this House repealed the stupid attempts by the Conservative Party to put the trade union movement in shackles? However, in the context of the talks on the charter, will my hon. Friend say whether the Newspaper Publishers Association has yet been able to speak with one voice on this important topic?

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it is certainly true that what we have done is basically to restore the law to what it was before 1971. Attempts in the 1971 Act to outlaw the closed shop had the opposite effect and resulted in the loss, in 1972, of 24 million working days due to disputes.

On the second part of the question, no, the Newspaper Publishers Association has not been able to speak with one voice. One of the difficulties that we have experienced has been that instead of listening to one voice from Fleet Street, we have had to listen to another.

Is the Minister satisfied that there is no restriction on bona fide journalists gaining entry to an appropriate trade union?

Will the Minister confirm that any charter laid before this House will contain complete freedom of access for all people to the Press at all times and, secondly, that there will be an undertaking that a journalist can join a union or not join a union according to his choice? When will this be laid before the House, because no other charter will have a majority here?

I think that I have indicated the difficulties with which we are faced with regard to timing. My right hon. Friend is anxious that we should come before the House with the draft charter as soon as practicable.

On the two specific points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, yes, access to the Press will be one of the matters that will be covered and is required by the Act to be covered by the charter. It would be rather premature for me to reflect now on precisely what the charter will say. On the second point—the proposal that the charter should contain a right for every journalist to belong or not to belong to a trade union—again, obviously that will have to await the charter, but I would personally find it very difficult to reconcile that with the debate in both Houses that led to the concept of a Press charter and, indeed, the terms of the parent Act itself.