HC Standing Committee [Public Bodies (Admission of Press to Meetings) Bill]
|Document kind:||House of Commons Committee|
|Venue:||House of Commons|
|Source:||Hansard HC Standing Committee C [167-218]|
|Editorial comments:||1030-1300. Fourth Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at cc.170, 209, and 215.|
|Themes:||Local government, Media, Strikes and other union action, Local government, Media, Local government, Media|
PUBLIC BODIES (ADMISSION OF THE PRESS TO MEETINGS) BILL
STANDING COMMITTEE C
Wednesday, 6th April, 1960
[Sir Norman Hulbert in the Chair]
The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke )
May I have your permission, Sir Norman, to call attention to an error in the Official Report of our proceedings at the last sitting and to ask whether you would give your permission for it to be corrected? If hon. Members turn to the top of column 122, they will find that the report of the second sentence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General reads as follows:
"In view of the fact that there is no obligation under the Bill as at present drafted …".—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 30th March, 1960; c. 122.]
He assures me that the words which he actually used were:
"In view of the fact that there is an obligation under the Bill …".
It is a clear mistake in transcription, because the statement would not make sense otherwise. I hope that it may be corrected.
I will take note of that for the record.
Clause 1.—(Admission of press to meetings of local authorities and other bodies.)
Amendment proposed (23rd March), in page 1, line 8, leave out "press" and insert "public".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]
Question again proposed.
Mr. G. W. Reynolds
Certainly what the Minister has said is what I understood the Solicitor-General to say last week. I had read the Report and I had not even noticed that it was printed incorrectly.
Since the last meeting we have had an opportunity of looking at the Solicitor-General's advice to us and of thinking over what the Minister said towards the conclusion of the discussion at the last 168sitting. I think that the Minister is right in saying that we are discussing an Amendment with which almost all of us are in agreement. I am not certain, however, about the advisability of confusing the Press and public in one Part of the Bill. I should prefer to deal with the Press in one Part of the Bill and with the public in another.
I do not think that any hon. Member objects to the Amendment which the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has moved. We heard what the Solicitor-General said which, incidentally, from the point of view of legal interpretation, confirmed what the hon. Lady advised the Committee at a previous meeting as to the full implications of the Bill. But we also learned from the Solicitor-General and from interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter ) and the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins ) that, while the hon. Lady's legal interpretation was perfectly correct, in practice the provisions will go much further than any of us on this side of the Committee realised during Second Reading, although we began to have suspicions of it between Second Reading and Committee.
I think that we are now in a position in which we can all accept the Amendment—at any rate, I can—but, in view of what we heard from the Solicitor-General about the implications of Clause 2, I feel that we shall have to look in much greater detail at the other Amendments which are linked with this when we reach that Clause. I am of the opinion that in all probability the Solicitor-General's advice to the Committee, which shows how far the provisions go, probably means that they go even further than the sponsors of the Bill thought at the time it was introduced. While I hope that we shall agree to the Amendment, I hope that the promotors of the Bill, the Minister and other hon. Members will have a closer look at Clause 2, because I am certain, as advised, that it goes further than anyone dreamed at the time the Bill was introduced. When we reach similar Amendments in Clause 2 to that which we are discussing, we must greatly revise that aspect of the Bill.
Does the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) wish 169formally to move his Amendment to the proposed Amendment—after "public" insert
"whenever reasonable facilities for accommodating the public can be provided"?
Mr. W. A. Wilkins
In view of the interpretation given to the requirements of accommodation for the public and Press by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and by the Solicitor-General at our last meeting, I propose not to press my Amendment this morning, although we should like to have the opportunity of looking further into the interpretations given to us. I shall not press the Amendment now, providing that we might reasonably expect to be able to put it down again on Report if we still do not consider the interpretations given to us as being satisfactory.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move in page 1, line 8, after "public" to insert
"provided there is no interruption in the normal production of newspapers or periodicals."
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds ) and I feel greatly honoured that for the first time in our Parliamentary life we were represented in The Times third leader. This occurred on 12th March. The Times, which I think we might call that immaculate apostle of neutrality and fair reporting, devoted the whole of its third leader to us. Among the things it said were:
"Mr. G. W. Reynolds and Mr. Wilkins , who have set down the latest amendments, leave no doubt at all of their position."
That is, with regard to this Bill
"They seek to limit the access of the Press to meetings of local authorities to times when ‘there is no interruption in the normal production of newspapers or periodicals’. They plainly take their stand with the majorities on those councils which, during last year's printing strike,"
—which is quite an error—
"excluded reporters who were trying to carry on their duties notwithstanding the dispute on the ground that the newspaper for which they were working had been declared ‘black’. For a public authority thus to take sides in an industrial quarrel was questionably legal at the time; one object of the present Bill is to see that there is no legal loophole in the future. The public right to read what any journalist has to say is not to be limited because the journalist happens to be at odds with his employer or his union."
170I certainly do not dissent from what is said or implied in that leading article. It did not seek to lavish praise on our heads; indeed, The Times did not come to praise Caesar but to bury him.
I now turn to some of the things which have been said, confirming the view expressed by The Times, by Members of this Committee and by the hon. Lady when she moved the Second Reading. I spent five hours in the House on that day hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and I was rather sorry that the Bill was presented in a Maiden Speech, because that restricted the points on which we might have wished to challenge the hon. Lady during that speech.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
It does not appear to have restricted the [ W. A. Wilkins ] hon. Member since.
That is one of the advantages of the Committee stage of a Bill. The same restrictions cannot be applied to an hon. Member as on the Floor of the House during Second or Third Readings.
I have felt from the original proposal to bring in the Bill that this was intended to be a punitive Measure, and I was confirmed in that view, as I said in the House on 5th February, when I heard the hon. Lady, in what I thought was a perfectly disarming manner, use the term
"Long before the events of the past summer there was a very good case for amending the 1908 Act."—[Official Report, 5th February, 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1351.]
I should have liked the opportunity on that occasion to ask her precisely what was meant by that almost innocuous sounding phrase.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government then reminded us that there was a paragraph in the last Conservative Election Manifesto which read:
"We mean to make sure that the Press have proper facilities for reporting the proceedings of local authorities."
It occurred to me when he said that on Second Reading to ask myself whether it was just a coincidence that this promise or threat, whichever view we may take of it, according to our judgement, appears in the Conservative Party Manifesto for the first time following.
"the events of the past summer"
to which the hon. Lady referred on Second Reading. 171
If hon. Members turn to the Report of the proceedings in Committee, columns 20 and 21 of 16th March, they will find that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger ) is reported as having said:
"We could agree with the hon. Member"——
that is my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter )—
"that certainly the relationship between the Press and the local authorities in the past, in the vast majority of cases, has been entirely satisfactory, but because it is not entirely satisfactory in respect of a very small minority we have this Bill."
The inference there is clear for anyone to deduce.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell ) was much more forthright in what he said. He spilled the beans. He is reported in column 22 as having said:
"Neither do I share his hopes"
—that is, the hopes of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall—
"that a code of conduct"
—which is what the Minister favours—
"would be effective to prevent those incidents which occurred last July."
On second thoughts that language was not strong enough for him. He is reported in column 23 as having relieved himself of this outburst which, I may remind you, Sir Norman, caused you to call him to order:
"In that connection I would have to recount to the Committee the circumstances of the exclusion of the Press from the proceedings of the Liverpool Corporation last July. I believe that that and similar instances prompted the promotion of the Bill."
Mr. Norman Pannell
The hon. Member strengthens the case I am hoping to put before the Committee. On that occasion he continued:
"Therefore, the Bill should be effective in preventing the recurrence of such incidents. On 1st July last year Liverpool City Council met on a Wednesday as usual. There was at the time a printing dispute as a result of which the majority of the provincial newspapers went out of circulation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 16th March, 1960; c. 20–23.]
There, we had the completely frank admission by one of the members of the Conservative Party as to what was the real motive and the real inspiration that lay behind the introduction of this Bill. 17210.45 a.m.
Here, may I pause for a moment to make my position absolutely clear about this? I have here an article which I wrote in my own trade union journal and which was written three months ago, and from which a quotation can be made to show that I said in that article—and I say it now on the Floor of this Committee—that I am not myself opposed, either to the admission of the Press or the public to meetings of local authorities when no business is being conducted of a character which it would be unwise to make public, provided, of course, that the safeguards which we tried to get inserted into the Bill a few moments ago may be imposed with regard to accommodation.
Indeed, for my own part, I believe that the admission of the public to the meetings of our local authorities is the one thing that might protect us against the things which the Press in fact reports about these meetings. It is what I would call a counter-blast. It enables people who come away from the meetings to read the evening papers and to say, "I never heard anything like that said in the local council," which is what they so often are able to say. Therefore, I would be very happy indeed if it were possible for local authorities to admit the Press and public to their meetings.
My final reference is to that impeccable journal and neutral observer, as I would think, the Municipal Review. The Municipal Review for this month, in the very first paragraph of its leading article, says this:
"LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND THE PRESS.
The Bill on this subject is now before Parliament and the debates make it clear that its promoters have been influenced by the action of some local authorities at the time of the troubles in the printing industry last year, by the ‘five minutes’ council, in which all the discussion takes place in the absence of the Press, and by the failure of some authorities to supply the Press in advance with copies of the council agenda. On occasions such as these the fact that most local authorities throughout the land act reasonably is overlooked. The attitude of the few tends to be regarded as the standard and the good relations which have existed for so long between so many local authorities and the Press is lost sight of."
So that is the fundamental basis upon which I have sought to move this Amendment. 173
I admit right away to the Committee that when I put the Amendment down, it was because I suspected that the Bill arose out of spite, vindictiveness or recrimination. I suspected that even before the hon. Lady in her Second Reading speech, made the disarming observation to which I previously referred—
"Even before the events of last July."
I must confess that I never expected at that time to hear the blatant confirmation of the view which I then held which we had from the hon. Member for Kirkdale when he spoke in debate last week.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government has himself recognised that it is necessary to impose restrictions upon journalists in connection with local authority reporting. He has expressed his view that there ought to be a code of conduct. Indeed, two years ago, he was talking about the necessity for a code of conduct. I wondered why his views have changed since 1958, and why he now finds himself able to support this Measure. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger ) did not tell us when he spoke whether he wanted a code of conduct at all. The hon. Member for Kirkdale wants the Bill, with its legal sanctions, but he does not want the Press to be subject to a code of conduct. In other words, he wants the best of both worlds.
Mr. N. Pannell
The hon. Member has misquoted me. The code of conduct referred to was a code of conduct for corporations or municipal authorities, not of the Press. I have never mentioned that it should be applied to the Press, and the hon. Gentleman is not right in quoting me in that connection.
If the hon. Member for Kirkdale says he did not mean the interpretation which I have placed upon his observations, obviously, I will accept that, but that was not my reading of what he had to say at the first sitting of the Committee. For my part, I believe that the proposal for a code of conduct in this connection——
Order. The code of conduct was discussed very fully on the first Amendment.174
Yes, Sir Norman; I thought I might be sailing near the wind when I referred to this matter of a code of conduct. I hope, however that I shall be able to make the point in our subsequent deliberations on this matter.
I recognise that certain risks are bound to be accepted as a result of the admission of the Press to local authority meetings. We must expect that in the interest of the public, of reporting and so on. We hear an awful lot about the so-called freedom of the Press. It was something like 100 years ago that Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in "Democracy in America", perhaps in a rather defeatist sort of attitude to that doctrine that the pen is even mightier than the sword, said:
"In this question, therefore, there is no medium between servitude and licence; in order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the Press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils that it creates."
It is that solution with which we shall have to agree.
I then asked myself why it was that this Bill was promoted, and I am submitting to the Committee that there was no other purpose whatever than that it should be intended that, when there was trouble or a dispute of some sort in the printing industry—an industry which has been singularly trouble-free throughout almost the whole of its existence—the Press should not be debarred from obtaining its news, and that newspapers which, theoretically at any rate, should not be published should have the information from these meetings.
If I may have your permission, Sir Norman, to refer to the code of conduct in another connection, not that indicated on the Order Paper, I should like to tell hon. Members of the Committee that we in the trade union movement feel that we have a right to expect respect for a code of conduct in our industry at the times when we ourselves are in dispute with our employers, in just the same way as the employers expect respect for a code of conduct—[Interruption.] Yes, we are entitled to it.
Mr. Roderic Bowen
Would the hon. Gentleman include in that unofficial strikes?
I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he 175thought that this was an unofficial strike, when I will be able to answer his question.
This is the crux of the whole thing. Anyone who was sufficiently observant will have noted that when this dispute was in being in the printing industry, and it involved ten unions affiliated with the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, the word strike was used only on the first day, and, thereafter, was never used again. The matter was referred to as a dispute, and the reason was that if any term of a technical character had to be applied to that dispute, that term would have been "lock-out" and not "strike." That is the reason why the newspapers of this country referred to it as a dispute, for, indeed, it was not a strike, but, if anything, it was a lock-out.
Here we find ourselves having to consider whether, in particular, the work-people of this country have certain legitimate rights. Under the industrial legislation of this country, in a case like this, this dispute would be a perfectly legal thing. I am not upholding in any way whatever strikes or lock-outs or anything like that. I should have thought that after sixty years of industrial relationships, these things ought to have disappeared into the limbo of forgotten things. The fact is that it is still legal for a man to withhold his labour or for an employer to lock men out from his works. While this is in progress, we have a right to expect that a certain code of conduct in this connection will be observed.
If there were a dispute, shall we say, in the motor car manufacturing industry, it would be perfectly legal for those involved in the dispute to try to prevent by all legitimate and peaceful means the raw materials of that industry reaching a factory where other men are still working. In the case of the newspaper and periodical industry, the raw material is unquestionably the news, and I am submitting to the Committee that it was perfectly legal and legitimate for those people who were engaged in the dispute to try, as far as they possibly could, to prevent the raw material, namely, the news, from reaching those newspapers which were publishing because they had managed to persuade, or in some cases to 176coerce, certain members of the staff to remain at work.
We come now to the point where the exclusion of the Press from certain local authority meetings became involved, and I want to repeat that it was in very few instances indeed. Nevertheless, they were excluded. Why were they excluded? The reason, of course, that we have had given to us, was that they wanted to support the printers and give their assistance to printers who were in dispute. The reasons given to me—and I believe that this is the true interpretation of the position—was that they said, "Here are two contending parties who are themselves in dispute, and the only way in which we can show that we are not taking sides with either of these people is to adopt an attitude of neutrality, and to refuse admission to the Press while the dispute is in existence."
May I also remind the Committee, and I believe I am rightly informed about this, that there was an instruction from the National Union of Journalists to its members? That instruction, if I am rightly informed, was that copy which they might obtain, not merely from local authorities, but from other sources, should not be passed to the production department of any newspaper or periodical if that newspaper or periodical was one of those which was in dispute. Of course, the consequence was that this was not in order. Such information as they were able to obtain was passed in violation of the instructions given to the production departments. There is much that one can say——
Mr. Dudley Williams
Just now the hon. Member was saying that he disliked strikes, that they were out of date, and that people were perfectly at liberty to persuade others to obstruct the passage of raw material. He now says that instructions were given that certain things were not to be done. I have never heard such nonsense. It suggests bullying.
That is only because the hon. Member has a one-track mind and refuses to see the other point of view. I am trying to be reasonable about the presentation of this case. I recognise that this is a provocative Amendment which will, no doubt, stimulate considerable and, perhaps, at times inflamed discussion, but I say to the hon. Member 177that any legislation born of spite or recrimination is bound to be inherently unsound, because it derives from punitive motives.
I am as certain as I stand here—and I think the Minister will be able to confirm this, because we gather that he has had a considerable volume of correspondence from local authorities—that unless we insert certain safeguards, not only for times when the industry may find itself in dispute but also for a code of conduct of these people whose duty it is to report the proceedings of local authorities, the relationship between the members of local authorities and the trade unions concerned will be severely injured by this Measure.
I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if we also discuss the Amendment to page 2, line 21, after "practicable", insert:
"and providing there is no interruption in the normal production of newspapers or periodicals"
which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ).
Mr. F. P. Bishop
The hon. Gentleman based his argument upon the statement that this Bill is, as he called it, a punitive Measure, and he quoted some things that some of my hon. Friends had said in justification of his statement. He might perhaps have completed his quotations by mentioning also what I said, because it should be clearly established that this Bill, whatever the effect of the events of last year, is not based upon those events at all. I said:
"It must be within the knowledge of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that legislation on similar lines to that provided in the Bill has been pressed for by newspaper organisations for a great many years, and from their point of view there is nothing new about it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 16th March, 1960; c. 39.]
I did try to curtail my observations today in the interests of time, but I have here the report of the Special Sub-Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which referred to the representations made by the Institute of Journalists—I believe it was in 1946—in which it clearly says that the differences of opinion that arose between them and the local authorities were really about the diversity of the 178actions of local authorities, in that some admitted the Press to their various meetings while others excluded it. They expressed their concern about that. It was not so much the exclusion of the Press but that some authorities were behaving differently from others which concerned them. I would welcome anything that brought in a general standard which would be to the satisfaction of everybody.
I want to establish the point I was making, that the unfortunate events of last year were not the origin of this Bill——
The hon. Member is contradicting his friends.
—and not the main reason why most, or at any rate many, of my hon. Friends are supporting the Bill. The Amendment is quite impossible. The hon. Member has overlooked the fact that the word "Press" has gone from Clause 1 and that the word "public" has been substituted, so that in effect he is asking the Committee to say that the public shall be excluded.
The hon. Member will recall that the Chairman suggested that we might consider with this Amendment another Amendment which stands in my name. I put that second Amendment down for a later part of the Bill—it is almost in the same terms as this one—because I had doubt as to whether, if "press" was altered to "public", it would be in order at this point. I put it down at this stage so that it would be in order when we came to that later part of the Bill.
I am not sure that I appreciate what the effect of that Amendment might be, but it seems clear that the result of the Amendment which the hon. Gentleman has just moved would be to exclude the public in those cases where, above all, it seems desirable that the public should be admitted—namely, because the newspapers are not able to appear. However, I now leave that point. It is not the only one or even the main one which seems to make this Amendment impossible.
The hon. Member has apparently argued that a trade dispute is the only possible cause which may lead to an interruption in the normal production of 179a newspaper. That is not so. I know from personal experience that such a thing as an interruption of newsprint supplies can affect the normal production of newspapers. No doubt, he will remember—though this is going back a long way—the unhappy events when there was a complete interruption of publication by provincial newspapers because of the fuel shortage. That shortage stopped the production of provincial and local newspapers altogether for some time.
I am quite certain that the hon. Member does not desire that events of that kind, which may lead to an interruption of production, should have the effect which they would have if this Amendment were accepted. Personally, though I do not agree that the Bill arises from the events of last year, I feel that this Amendment does arise from those events which I hoped we could exclude from consideration both of the Bill itself and from Amendments. They were unhappy events which I hope will never recur.
Mr. Charles Pannell
I would not accuse the sponsor of this Bill of bringing it in because of the events of last year. I appreciate what the hon. Member said, but nobody listening to the Second Reading and to speeches in this Committee could but appreciate that the printing dispute has coloured the deliberations on the Bill. The Press itself, in leading articles about the Bill, has specifically mentioned the unfortunate things that happened last year. I am not questioning what the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell ) said about what happened in Liverpool, except to say that a city council the size of Liverpool does not necessarily have to accept the advice of its chief legal officer on all occasions. That advice can be given by a principal officer, but it is for an elected body to decide whether it accepts it. If it does not accept that advice then it must take the consequences.
My hon. Friend seems to be under a misapprehension that the account so far given to this Committee of what occurred at Liverpool is correct. The City Council fully accepted the advice of the town clerk on this matter.
Mr. C. Pannell
I do not want to talk about what has happened in 180Liverpool. The hon. Member for Kirkdale is a member of the Liverpool Corporation and I assume that he takes responsibility——
Mr. N. Pannell
I am not a member of Liverpool City Council, and the account of what happened on that occasion is in dispute because the Press was excluded. Any Member of this Committee can give his views as to what happened, but there is nothing on record because the Press was excluded.
Mr. C. Pannell
I know that the hon. Member was a member of the City Council and I assumed that he was speaking from first-hand knowledge. If not, the information that he gave to the Committee previously does not carry the same weight as I thought. Apparently he was not a witness, although I do not doubt that he spoke in good faith.
I was not a witness of what went on there but I was a witness of what happened in Leeds City Council. Throughout the printing dispute Leeds City Council observed all the courtesies to the Press that it had received prior to the strike. It allowed reporters to come in and sit at the tables. Nothing was withheld except extra privileges and extra courtesies that had been given by the council to the Press for its comfort. These were withdrawn at that period because one newspaper—the Yorkshire Evening News—decided as a matter of policy not to print for the whole period of the strike, whereas the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post decided that they would bring out an emasculated news-sheet.
In these circumstances, it was not only a dispute between the printers and employers but a dispute as to how it should be handled by two of the newspaper firms concerned. One has to remember that in a city those who have the legal right to go into dispute are also ratepayers and have rights in the matter. The journalists who decide that they must come out on strike were also ratepayers. Therefore, it seemed to the Leeds City Council that it had no rights to stop anyone, either Press or public, from coming into the public gallery.
Everybody knows what happened at Leeds. The council felt that extra courtesies should be withdrawn. I refer to that account because in the news sheet 181published in Leeds at the time the position was put as if legal rights were withheld from the Press.
Mr. Dudley Smith
Is the hon. Member aware that the Leeds Corporation prevented schoolteachers from inviting the Press to sports days and prize givings during the period of the dispute?
Mr. C. Pannell
Speaking as one who has been chairman of an education committee, I regard prize givings and speech days as private events. If the Press is allowed in to report such events it is allowed in as an act of grace. My relations with the Press, during my experience of local government, have extended over a long time, and I have always recognised that to be the position. There may be a considerable amount of speaking off the record. I cannot believe that the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith ), whom I believe is a journalist, is very "narked" about what a headmaster might have said to his boys at such a time.
I know of district where there might be a great number of printers, such as Southwark, where, as residents and ratepayers, they would object to their council appearing to take sides in an industrial dispute. I stand firmly on the principle that the Press should have the greatest degree of right to attend meetings of the local authority, and do not think that any Press men would complain that my personal relationship with them had been bad in relation to any local authorities with which I have been concerned.
The difficulty arises where there is a balance of interests and I repeat that such a balance of interests arose in the case of the Leeds City Council. When there is a dispute in the public Press it is not easy to judge these matters. It so happens that this industry has had an extraordinarily good industrial record. It has one of the best in the country; possibly exceeded only by that of the boot and shoe operatives. That being so, a dispute in the Press comes as a great shock. Considering the actions taken by people in dispute—the withholding of their labour and their endeavours to see that certain "black" actions are not taken—I do not think that the printing trade unions acted unreasonably in the recent dispute. 182
The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams ) showed by his intervention that he did not understand what striking was about, or what rights, existed in industrial relationships.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
I have been carefully following the hon. Member's argument. A few moments ago he said that he was completely in favour of the action taken by the Leeds City Council in continuing to give facilities to the Press——
—but not privileges.
—but not privileges. How does he separate those two things? If the Press has been reporting the debates of the Leeds City Council for many years and has received certain privileges, such as the use of refreshment rooms, to take those privileges away seems to me to be extraordinarily mean. I cannot understand why the City Council was prepared to allow reporting to continue but not prepared to be sporting enough to allow journalists to continue to enjoy the amenities to which they had been accustomed. Will the hon. Member develop that argument?
Mr. C. Pannell
I am reminded of a saying of Professor Bronowski :
"A wrong to any social class can be judged only in the context of the class which considers itself wronged."
To me, with forty years' trade unionism behind me, the act of going in to work when other men are on strike is one of the depths of sin. That is the sort of feeling which the hon. Member may not be able to understand. It is an outrage to my code. I therefore say that the Leeds City Council—a Labour City Council—observed the law immaculately in allowing the Press to gather its news but denying it the rooms, telephone facilities and refreshments which had hitherto been made available—because, in effect, those men were blacklegs in our code, and according to the code of the Leeds City Council.
Hon. Members opposite must try to put themselves into the position of a man like me, who has been on strike. I remember that Jack London once wrote:
"A blackleg is a product of the fifth day generation on which the Lord made all creeping and crawling things."
I have always believed that. I am completely outraged to think that some men 183continue to go in to work when their fellow men are on official strike. It is no use hon. Members opposite talking about being sporting in this connection. To me, with my knowledge and experience of the history of trade unionism, such things are matters of economic life and death. It is not a question of being sporting. This is not a game, except perhaps a kind of "beggar my neighbour."
I said that the Leeds City Council continued to provide facilities, but cut off privileges.
But the Council was not concerned in the dispute. When it took a definite line, as it did, it was extremely biased. It deprived the members of the Press of the use of telephones, refreshment rooms and such things. It seems to me that the hon. Member is arguing from a wrong premise. In taking the action that it did the City Council, which was not concerned in the dispute, took a decidedly biased and prejudiced line against certain people.
I can give the hon. Member an idea of my knowledge, but I cannot give him understanding. In this matter one either feels this way or one does not. I have no doubt about it. In the context of some other subject, of which the hon. Member knows much more than I, he might feel a sense of outrage—perhaps on a question of taste or public behaviour—in respect of which I should not be so sensitive. All I am saying is that I am sensitive in this matter. I must leave it at that.
Mr. Martin Maddan
I have been following the hon. Member's speech. I thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) gave us to understand that this was not a strike but only a dispute. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ) has been talking about blacklegs and so on, as if there had been a strike. I am a little confused. I have not studied this question in detail, and I did not think that it had anything like the importance it evidently has in the minds of hon. Members opposite, but since it is being discussed perhaps we could be told whether it was a strike or merely a dispute.184
Whenever an industrial dispute occurs, the people on the two sides of the dispute refer to it in different terms. The employees refer to it as a lockout, whereas the employers call it a strike. Undoubtedly it began as a strike. It was labelled as a strike on the first day. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ), who was a part of the set-up, can speak with greater authority than I do. I do not mind whether it is called a dispute or a strike; it was a withdrawal of labour.
The Press referred to it as a dispute because, in fact, it was a lock-out. The Press did not want to use that term, so they called it a dispute. If it had been a strike the Press would have used the term "strike" all the way through.
If it was a lock-out, it makes my case all the stronger. In effect, the printing workers were the defendants. If a person is locked out he is the helpless victim of certain circumstances. Consequently, since the printing employees were ratepayers they had a right to expect their city council not to take sides in the matter. That is one of the difficulties that arise in connection with elected bodies—and the Press is an explosive commodity in this context. The city council was concerned to hold a balance. One newspaper had decided to cease publication, and if privileges had continued to be extended it could have been argued that advantages were being given to one newspaper as against another, since another newspaper brought out an emasculated newssheet with "black" labour.
I am not trying to argue the case, since I was not in Leeds at the time. I am pointing out the difficulties which face any corporation at a time such as this. If the Corporation had continued to allow the Press to use the refreshment room it would have been reasonable for any trade union worker in the refreshment room to refuse to serve the Press. Then there would have been further complications, and the refreshment room men may have come out on strike, in sympathy. The difficulty with all strikes is to find some way of limiting their operation, and to know where to fix the demarcation line between what is "black" and what is "white." 185
I am not so sure that the Amendment is useful, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press it to a vote. The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop ) is on an extremely good point. Since we are giving the public equal rights with the Press, if a trade dispute occurred which took away the rights of the Press it would be more than ever necessary for the public to have those rights.
I rose merely to deal with the position of the Leeds City Council, about which there has been a great deal of ambiguity and misrepresentation in the Press. It was completely different from the case of Liverpool. There is no question that the hon. Lady has suffered greatly from the advocacy of her hon. Friends. It is a question of "save me from my friends" in her case. All sorts of excuses have been dragged in on behalf of the employers. I am sure that all that is in the hon. Lady's mind is the desire to secure minimum rights of entry to the Press. In drafting a Bill nobody can consider an isolated dispute—the first dispute in sixteen years—and suggest that that requires legislation. That would be a degree of nonsense that I do not believe is in the hon. Lady's mind. I hope that it is not in the Committee's mind, and that since we have aired this matter and have got the rights of the public enshrined in the Bill my hon. Friend will no longer feel it necessary to press his Amendment.
Two disputes in 110 years.
Sir Robert Grimston
I must make my personal position clear. For some years I have had the honour to be President of the Urban District Councils Association. I also backed the Bill, but I would not like anybody in the Committee to think that I did so on behalf of the Association; I did so entirely independently. Although the Association does not oppose the principle of the Bill, it will seek to have certain Amendments made.
I was intrigued by the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ). After he had quoted the leading article in The Times I wondered how he would reconcile his approval of it with his sponsorship of the Amendment. 186I was no wiser at the end of his speech, except that it appeared that he felt the Bill had been introduced in a spirit of spite, in connection with the unhappy events which occurred in certain localities last year, which many people, including hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, would not like to see happen again.
I was endeavouring to show that the leading article in The Times which imputed certain motives to my hon. Friend and myself was, in fact, correct, and I accepted that it was correct. If it is correct, it conflicts with the view of the hon. Member for Harrow Central (Mr. Bishop ).
Sir R. Grimston
I was going to follow up what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop ). The genesis of this Bill was not the matters which have been referred to. In 1949 I was successful in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills and I introduced a Bill on similar lines to this one. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General when he was a back-bench Member introduced a Bill under the ten-minute rule so I wish to disabuse the hon. Gentleman's mind about the genesis of this Bill. I will say that the events to which he has referred strengthened the case for the Bill. It was discussed at length during the Committee stage proceedings on the Local Government Act.
Perhaps I may quote briefly from the Parish Councils Review of 1959 which stated:
"The Local Government Chronicle, which has more than once opened its columns to articles markedly hostile to the Press, recently told its readers … ‘it is probable that something will have to be done by the new Parliament about the admission of the Press to meetings’. … The paper felt that if local electors saddle themselves with a council who choose to behave as a secret society they have only themselves to blame; on the other hand, it accepted that in the public interest, and particularly in the interests of minorities, there should be a minimum standard of publicity. The present law was not effective in securing that minimum."
That is the case for this Bill and it always has been. It goes back many years because on many previous occasions Bills similar to this one have been introduced. I therefore wish to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend. I do 187not believe that the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) really agrees with this Amendment.
Mr. Michael Stewart
Before touching on the main issues in dispute on this Amendment I wish to refer to the exchanges regarding what happened in the Liverpool City Council. I think the case for this Bill, such as it may be, has been somewhat bedevilled by people like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell ) who have taken advantage of our debates to make attacks on particular councils which have a Labour majority. The hon. Member for Kirkdale told us at the first sitting of the Committee that on 1st July there was the usual Wednesday meeting of the Liverpool City Council. He went on to say that the Leader of the Socialist majority on the Liverpool City Council had moved a motion to exclude the Press. The town clerk intervened and said that it was not in order but the Labour council had defied its town clerk and put the motion.
That was the account given to this Committee by the hon. Member for Kirkdale. My hon. Friend now tells us that that account is not correct, that the council did not defy the ruling of the town clerk. The hon. Member for Kirkdale tried to escape from what he said by saying that it must be a matter of dispute because the Press representatives were not present, but that will not wash——
Order. It is not in order for a hon. Member to read a newspaper in the Committee.
Mr. N. Pannell
I am not reading a newspaper, Sir Norman; I am looking up a quotation to which I intend to refer later.
I was saying that the hon. Member for Kirkdale assured us that what happened in the Liverpool City Council must be a matter of dispute because the Press representatives were not present. But, of course, it is of the essence of the argument that until it had been decided to exclude them, the Press representatives were present. The hon. Member said that the council met as usual, that is to say with the Press representatives present. Therefore, any discussion about the exclusion of the Press must have taken place in the presence 188of Press representatives. The excuse that we cannot know what happened because the Press were not there will not hold water. I am inclined to accept the version of the matter which was given by my hon. Friend.
I do not know how far that is germane to the main issue. My point is that we are likely to make better progress with our discussions on this Bill if our debates are not used as opportunities to make partisan attacks on particular councils. One of my hon. Friends served for a good many years on a council which had a Tory majority. In order not to exacerbate the feelings of hon. Members, I do not propose to mention the council by name. But it had a regular practice of doing its business in a so-called committee of the whole council and then having a meeting of the full council which merely received a nominal report from the committee of the whole council. That went cheerfully on for years, but so far as I remember, no hon. Member of this House got particularly excited about it; so I think that we shall make better progress if partisan attacks of that kind are not made.
On the vital issue raised by the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) I have much sympathy with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ). He, I thought, put very well the feelings of a trade unionist on this matter. I hope that it may have been of some instructional value to hon. Members opposite who do not always understand how trade unionists feel about people who, during a dispute, ignore the instructions of their union. We are sometimes told that people who act in that way ought to be respected and admired because they are following their own consciences. All I would say about that is that when I find hon. Members opposite showing the same enthusiasm for a conscientious objector to military service as they do to a conscientious objector to trade unionism I shall pay a little more attention to what they say about the dictates of conscience. It is a curious thing, but most of us are inclined to respect the conscience of a man if his conscience leads him to do something with which we heartily agree. So I do not think that we need attach too much importance to 189the praise that a blackleg can always win from certain hon. Members opposite.
What is the issue here? As I understand it—my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) will correct me if I am wrong—there was a dispute in the printing trade and the National Union of Journalists advised its members not to supply copy to newspapers involved in the dispute.
I think that we had better get this right for the record. The information I have, which I believe to be correct, is not that journalists should not gather information but that they should not pass it on to the productive departments of newspapers being printed, shall we say, in contravention to the dispute.
That has put it right, then. There was a dispute in the printing industry and the advice of the National Union of Journalists to its members was that they should not pass copy to newspapers involved in the dispute.
It amounts to that. The term used was "productive departments."
Productive departments of newspapers involved in the dispute. I assume that I am right in saying that if every member of the National Union of Journalists had followed that advice, no problem would have arisen for local authorities. No journalist would have appeared at meetings of local councils, or indeed, I imagine, at any other functions; or if they had appeared, the persons conducting the function would have known that any information they collected would not be passed on to the productive departments of newspapers involved in the dispute.
The councils, therefore, need not have worried about this matter at all if every member of the National Union of Journalists had followed the advice given by the union. The proposition which is put to us by my hon. Friend in this Amendment is that if a certain number of journalists act in opposition to the advice given by their union, the council should then say, in effect, "Well we will help the National Union of Journalists to see that its advice is made 190effective by cutting off from blackleg members of the union the facilities which otherwise they would enjoy." That is what it amounts to.
The question is; is that a right thing to do? There is also the question; if my hon. Friend's Amendment be carried, will the result be a workable and satisfactory result all round? I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I am coming to the conclusion that was arrived at by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ). In 99 cases out of a 100, if not in every case, I think it is wrong for a man who is a regular member of his union, who benefits from that membership, to go against the advice of the union at the time of a dispute. There is the ordinary obligation of a man to his colleagues and to any body to which he belongs, from the membership of which he derives benefit, to act in that way. I have little sympathy with members of unions who decide suddenly at the time of a dispute that that is the moment when they will not observe the ordinary obligations of membership.
What we are asked to say by the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend is that if members of the National Union of Journalists behave in that way, then a local council should, as it were, step in and try to make the union policy effective, despite the existence of blackleg members of the union. Does the National Union of Journalists want that? Does it want to see this Amendment passed? I think I am right in saying that it does not. A union might say "We dislike blacklegs in the union but, on the whole, that is a problem with which we must try to deal ourselves, and not invoke the support of outside bodies."
Mr. C. Pannell
Would my hon. Friend agree with my point that the National Union of Journalists, like the local authorities and other bodies, would expect a reasonable balance to be maintained? They would expect that people—in this case corporations, but it might well have been all sorts of other bodies—not to do anything which appeared to tip the balance either way in such a dispute.
Yes, I would go that far with my hon. Friend. Let us see where 191that takes us. It means that he and I are agreed that journalists may be excluded. If they are not excluded they cannot be prevented from taking a report of the proceedings and sending it away. In order to demonstrate its complete neutrality in the dispute an organisation could say, "We will not give you any further facilities." The journalist could have his pound of flesh but no more, and they could exclude him from the canteen and any other facilities which were provided.
Mr. C. Pannell
They would not treat a blackleg like a gentleman.
In effect, the acceptance of this Amendment would not produce anything like the result which is required but it would produce far more than we want. I know of no way of writing something into a Statute which would achieve the result which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South would like, and which I agree is strict justice. I think a council might ask itself this question, "If they are to be here anyhow, and if we know that they will send reports, how far, frankly, do we serve any useful purpose by subjecting them to this particular vexation?" That is a matter which councils must judge for themselves. We cannot provide for it in a Statute.
Moreover, there is the point that as the Bill is now drafted to admit the public, we should have the rather curious result, if we accept this Amendment now without further consideration, that when there was a dispute in the printing trade, not only the Press but the public would be excluded from the meetings of councils and I am quite certain that none of us wants that. When this Bill becomes law I should like to see placards displayed outside town halls inviting members of the public to come to meetings of the council so that they might hear what really happens, instead of knowing only what they read in the newspapers.
We are up against the fact that if the public are allowed to attend the meetings of a council, it would not be possible to exclude a journalist who lived in the neighbourhood and who was a member of the public as well as a journalist. Because he is a member of the journalistic profession he does not forfeit the ordinary rights which we 192accord even to the humblest of human beings. If such a man is in a position to attend the meeting, we cannot prevent him from sending a report of the meeting. While I have much sympathy with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South to consider first the point that the union most nearly concerned in this matter, the National Union of Journalists, does not think that the best interests of trade unionism would be served by making this Amendment to the Bill. Secondly, when one examines the matter in detail it is seen to be almost impossible to draft something which will give the nice balance of neutrality in trade disputes which I think many of us want.
I hope that on consideration of these matters my hon. Friend, despite his strong feelings about them, will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.
Mr. N. Pannell
I have come under rather heavy attack in the course of the debate but I am quite unrepentent, although I do not claim necessarily to represent the views of other hon. Members on this side of the Committee. Clearly I do not represent the views of those two of my hon. Friends who have spoken on the Amendment.
My justification for my attitude is that I initiated the first inquiry in Parliament into the question of the exclusion of the Press in these circumstances. Perhaps I may quote from Hansard of 6th July, 1959:
"Mr. N. Pannell asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he will consider introducing amending legislation to prevent a local authority from excluding the Press on account of an industrial dispute in regard to which the local authority has no jurisdiction, and thereby depriving the public of information regarding the proceedings of their elected representatives by means of emergency editions of newspaper."
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government replied as follows:
"I strongly deprecate the action of any local authority which excludes the Press and the public from its meetings for any reason save that the nature of the business requires it to be considered in private. On the general question of the practice to be followed by local authorities in making information available to the Press, discussions have for some time been in progress between my 193Department and the local authority associations. I indicated to Parliament some months ago that the Government would not hesitate to advise an amendment in the law if necessary, but I would prefer a proper sense of responsibility to the local electors to prevail."
—[Official Report, 6th July, 1959; Vol. 608, c. 100.]
That encouraged me to believe that if councils did not act reasonably in this respect my right hon. Friend would introduce legislation requiring them to do so, but after the event in Liverpool, to which I alluded, there was another of similar character shortly afterwards, and no action was taken. When the Bill first came before the House, therefore, I was firmly of the opinion that its purpose was to remove those difficulties and to prevent local authorities from excluding the Press, particularly on the trivial pretext of a labour dispute.
It is interesting to recall what happened on the occasion to which I, alluded at a meeting of Liverpool City Council on 1st July. You, Sir Norman, earlier quite rightly reproved me for reading a newspaper under the impression that I was infringing the rules, but this newspaper is the Liverpool Echo and Express, produced on 2nd July, 1959, despite the printing dispute, and sold in Liverpool at a penny a copy.
Why cannot they always sell it for a penny?
Mr. N. Pannell
It records what happened at the meeting of the City Council on that occasion. This information perhaps may not be in the possession of other members of the Committee. I quote:
"The Labour group on Liverpool City Council ruthlessly used their big majority yesterday to muzzle the Press, but it took them 40 minutes of procedural gymnastics to find a way to do so. Alderman John Braddock , labour member of the city council, was told by the town clerk that the Press had a legal right to be present at sittings of the Council"——
Mr. C. Pannell
It is a blackleg newspaper.
It is a coloured report.
Mr. N. Pannell
"but Alderman Braddock forced through a resolution, by 83 to 45, requesting the Press to leave."
Do both the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell ) and the hon. 194Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins ) wish to intervene at the same time?
Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Member is reading from a blackleg newspaper containing a coloured report. It was one party to the dispute. He will appreciate that when the present Solicitor-General introduced a Bill of this kind in 1956, I opposed it, some years before the printing dispute. As I have tried to show, my attitude to the Bill is not coloured by the printing dispute.
Mr. N. Pannell
It is difficult to know which record of the City Council's proceedings can be relied on if we cannot rely on Press reports.
Mr. G. A. Pargiter
Does not the hon. Member agree that Press reports are often ex parte and refer only to very small parts of what took place? If the hon. Member wanted information he should have applied to the town cleark to discover precisely what happened. Alternatively, he could read the minutes of the council meetings, which are available to the public.
Mr. N. Pannell
I also have an account, which it will probably be out of order to quote, by a Conservative member of the council.
Mr. Victor Yates
Mr. N. Pannell
I will not give way again for the moment. I must complete one sentence.
Order. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) does not give way, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) must not rise.
Mr. N. Pannell
I will give way shortly.
I want to know about this paper.
Mr. N. Pannell
I cannot speak two sentences in sequence without being interrupted. My meaning may be obscured unless I am allowed to complete a sentence.
I also have here a record of the City Council meeting given to me by a prominent Conservative member of that 195council, but I do not think that I am entitled to quote it. I will repeat the facts as they are known to me from speaking to councillors who were present and from reading such reports as are available.
The representatives of the Press arrived in the usual manner, and they took their seats, whereupon the leader of the City Council, who was the leader of the Socialist majority, moved that the Press should be excluded. He gave as its reason not what is stated in the 1908 Act—that it was in the public interest for the Press to be excluded—but that it was no part of his duty as leader of the council to take part in an industrial dispute and favour blackleg labour in such a dispute.
The town clerk said that a resolution in such terms would not come within the ambit of the 1908 Act. The hon. Member for Leeds, West has said that a council is not bound to take the advice of its chief legal officer, but when the chief legal officer has given the legal position in what to the mind of the ordinary man seems to be a clear exposition of that position, I think that it is dangerous for any council to flout that advice.
It was flouted, and a resolution was put to the City Council that the Press should be excluded. It was passed by a large majority, all the Socialists, by coincidence, voting for it and all the Conservatives, by coincidence, voting against it.
But the Press refused to leave. They were men of stern metal, and they sat in their seats and refused to move. Whereupon the leader of the City Council moved that they should be forcibly removed from the City Council. At this point the Lord Mayor, who by a strange coincidence was a Conservative Lord Mayor on a council with a Labour majority, intervened to say that that was not in order and that the Press could not be forcibly excluded. Whereupon the council adopted the perfectly proper procedure of going into committee—a legally correct procedure but in gross abuse of the spirit of the 1908 Act.
The hon. Member referred to the position of journalists who attend in these circumstances. On this occasion there were three journalists, all members 196of the same organisation, which is a monopoly newspaper organisation in the City of Liverpool. One of them was a member of the National Union of Journalists, but I have clear evidence to the fact that he had been specifically asked by his union to continue his duties in the normal manner.
He had a legal contract. Why not fill in the details?
Mr. N. Pannell
I did not want to bore hon. Members or to take up too much time, but the wording is:
"Because I have a long-term legal contract with the Daily Post and Echo I was given specific instructions, locally and nationally, by the National Union of Journalists that I must remain at work and do my normal duties."
The other two Press representatives were not members of any union. Despite that, there were loud cries of "scabs" and "blacklegs" as they were eventually compelled to leave the chamber.
Despite the many arguments which I have heard in favour of the Amendment or the spirit of the Amendment this morning, I cannot conceive on what grounds hon. Members can conclude that it is the duty of an elected body, representing people of all political parties, to take sides in a trade union dispute which has no direct effect on the proceedings of that body. I cannot see that they have the slightest right to take sides. Their duty is to look after the interests of the electors, who have put them there for the purpose of running the city. It is not for them to decide whether any trade dispute, outside their influence altogether, should come within their jurisdiction. They have no right to intervene in the matter. But if, in intervening, they deny the public, by the very nature of the dispute in which they are intervening, the right to any knowledge of the council's proceedings, then that is quite contrary to the spirit of democracy, and it makes a mockery of the Socialist principles of the rights of man.
The spirit of democracy is to accept the will of the majority. Thirty-five members of the National Union of Journalists were dismissed by the firm which the hon. Member is defending, with four weeks' pay in lieu of notice. The people to whom he is referring as wanting to gather this information to which the public were entitled 197were not among those thirty-five. I am amazed that he should have the effrontery to try to defend what he calls the spirit of democracy when democracy obviously was not working there.
Mr. N. Pannell
The hon. Member and I are thinking along different lines.
On nearly every subject.
No doubt it is a matter of great satisfaction to both him and me. I cannot conceive how it can be the duty of any local authority to claim the right to take sides in a matter of this kind.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain one point? How is it possible not to take part in a dispute on either one side or the other? We may have a case where there is a dispute which affects the production of news, because that is what it is about. Never mind the causes behind it; that is the actual effect of the dispute. Surely, a council is obliged to say, for the purposes of a record, that it took one side or the other, and was legitimately doing its duty, because in most cases, it must take sides, one way or the other?
Mr. N. Pannell
I am sorry, but I cannot agree with that view at all. I cannot see that it is any part of the function of a council to take sides in such a dispute. I cannot see why, if the council has admitted to its deliberations three journalists, two of whom are not members of a union, while the other has been specially asked to carry on with his duties, the council is taking sides in the dispute by permitting these journalists to attend the meeting.
Mr. C. Pannell
Surely, the hon. Gentleman must know that the Liverpool City Council must have discussed the major points of the fair wages clause to ensure that the right conditions of labour are observed in contracts. I am sure that he knows that. This is a different sort of commodity. I do not see that the corporation should take sides. All I am trying to say is that rough justice should be done in an effort to ensure a balance.
Mr. N. Pannell
The balance at the moment is very much against the interests of the public, and if the Press are 198excluded, the public are thereby deprived of all knowledge.
Why has the Press this "divine right"?
Mr. N. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members opposite have had the opportunity of expressing their views, and I think it would be only courteous if I were given the opportunity to express mine. To cut across what I am saying every other sentence does not seem to me to serve the purpose of this Committee.
I repeat, therefore, that I see no reason whatever why a council should intervene, and my arguments remain unshaken by those of hon. Members opposite. I first supported this Bill on the understanding that it would prevent such abuses. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that these instances are few and far between, and that, over the country as a whole, there are not many cases of the exclusion of the Press during disputes. In the vast majority of cases, councils take a different view from those of authorities which exclude the Press, rendering the actions of those few indefensible.
Mr. C. Pannell
Mr. N. Pannell
It has been stated that there is no necessity to introduce legislation because these cases are so few and there is therefore no necessity to amend the law against them. Murders are fewer than any other crime, but that does not mean that there should be no penalty against it. It is certainly wrong to say that because a few prominent councils do abuse the spirit of the law which is designed to control their activities, no steps should be taken to correct those abuses. There are exceptions, and they are dishonourable exceptions. I regret that the Liverpool City Council was one of these dishonourable exceptions, and I very much hope that the law will be amended to prevent such abuses in the future.
I must refer back to the first meeting of this Committee, when the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) quite emphatically said, in relation to what happened at the meeting of the Liverpool City Council:
"The leader of the Socialist majority on the Liverpool City Council moved that the Press should be excluded. The Town Clerk intervened and said that it was not in order for 199such a motion to be put. The leader of the Council then defied the Town Clerk and put the motion. It was carried by a large majority."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 16th March, 1960; c. 24.]
That is a gross distortion of the facts, and I have felt it necessary to obtain, before discussing this Amendment, an authoritative statement from the Town Clerk of Liverpool and an extract from the record of the meeting, giving details of exactly what Motions were put, what advice was given, either by the Town Clerk or by the Lord Mayor acting on the advice of the Town Clerk, and what was the decision of the council.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale, being a Member of Parliament for a Liverpool division, could have obtained this information very much more easily than I have done. There was no need for him to hold private conversations with two or three Conservative members of the City Council, as he told us, for he could have got that information, as well as the advice that was given, and whether or not the Motion was withdrawn. I have been able to get it, and with it I hope to be able to clear the matter up, in order to enable the hon. Member to withdraw the allegations he made as to what went on at this meeting.
I wish to make clear to the Committee exactly what did happen, and it is my intention to show that, as the Bill is at present drafted—and the hon. Member says he supports the Bill, because of what was done in the dispute—it would allow this sort of thing to happen again and to be perfectly legal. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will feel able, after I have finished giving the reasons, to say why he supports the Bill, after I have shown that those reasons are no longer admissible.
I am advised that 35 journalists who were employed by the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo were actually sacked, as the hon. Gentleman said, from their employment, with a certain amount of pay in lieu of notice; whereupon, I am further advised, two representatives of the local branch of the National Union of Journalists involved in this particular matter, called upon certain prominent elected members of the Liverpool City Council and informed them of what had happened. They asked whether the City Council had not the 200right to protect in any way these men against these activities, as some journalists were intending to report the meeting of the City Council later that day. We have been told by the hon. Gentleman that only three Press representatives turned up. Let us get this quite clear.
There were five representatives on behalf of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo, to start with. There was a large number of other Press representatives, representing national newspapers, not in dispute, or national news agencies, also not in dispute. It is essential to get clear exactly what happened, and I will therefore quote from the report which has been prepared by the town clerk giving details of the meeting. Previous to the council meeting, members of the City Council discussed with the officers what procedure could be undertaken, and were informed that, and of this they were all fully aware, it would not be possible to exclude the Press under the 1908 Act for this particular reason. They were aware that though it was possible to move that the council should go into committee, this would not give any explanation later as to the reason why this action had been taken. So they deliberately moved Motions which they knew the Chair would rule out of order so that it could be on the record that they were out of order.
Mr. N. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman said he would deal as fairly as possible with the subject, but everything he has so far said has confirmed the statements I made.
I said that there were five representatives of these newspapers present at the start, which is a fact, and that there were other Press representatives present, and this is also a fact, both of which are contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said. I am also reporting that a number of journalists contacted members of the City Council before the meeting started, and I say that it is also a fact that members of the City Council discussed the matter and sought advice on what steps could be taken from the officers of the Council before the meeting started.
Now, I wish to quote from this Report to show exactly what happened at the 201meeting, and I am now quoting from an official report prepared by the town clerk and leaders of the City Corporation. It states:
"Alderman John Braddock moved and Alderman Cain seconded,
‘That the representatives of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo be requested to leave the Council Chamber.’"
It was perfectly in order for the Council to pass such a Motion to request any individual to leave the Chamber. The report goes on:
"This Motion was carried on a card vote, but when the representatives of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo were requested by the Lord Mayor to leave the Council Chamber, they did not do so."
That was also perfectly in order—for Press representatives to ignore a request of the Council. Nothing wrong had been done on either side in this particular respect.
The report continues:
"Alderman John Braddock then moved,
‘That, in view of the fact that there is no indication that the representatives of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo intend to leave, the press be excluded for the next two hours' business.’
but the Lord Mayor ruled that this was not in order.
Alderman John Braddock then moved,
‘That, in view of the fact that there is no newspaper being published locally in accordance with general trade union practice, the press be excluded.’
The Lord Mayor referred to the provisions of the Local Authorities (Admission of the Press to Meetings) Act, 1908, and said that it could only be operated in view of the special nature of any business being dealt with by the Council. If there were any such special business, requiring the exclusion of the press, he could accept such a Motion. The Town Clerk explained the provisions of the 1908 Act, and said that any Motion would have to be confined to the special business, as the press could not be excluded for the whole of the Council business. The Council accepted the advice of the Town Clerk on this point."
We were told, according to column 24 of the Official Report of our first Sitting:
"The leader of the Council then defied the Town Clerk and put the Motion. It was carried by a large majority."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 16th March, 1960; c. 24.]
That Motion was never put to the meeting, on the advice of the Town Clerk and the Lord Mayor, and that advice 202was accepted by the Council. The report continues:
"Alderman Hugh Carr pointed out that under Standing Order No. 25 the Council could resolve itself into Committee. The Town Clerk then explained that, if this were done, the Council would have to resolve itself back into open Council, for the purpose of reporting back what had happened ‘in Committee’, and the press and public would be readmitted."
It is perfectly in order for a council, for any reason whatever, to resolve itself into Committee and to exclude the Press and the public, and that is what was done in Liverpool on that particular occasion.
The report continues:
"At the conclusion of the Proceedings of the Council sitting in Committee, the press and public were readmitted, and the Council then received the Town Clerk's Report on such proceedings."
The report to the open council of what was done in Committee continues:
"Certain items were then opposed and debated, one of them being the proposed salary increase for the Stipendiary Magistrate. On this item, the Council, on the Motion of Alderman John Braddock, decided to exclude the representatives of the Press"—
including the representatives of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo, if they were still there—
"in view of the special nature of the business then being dealt with. This course was quite properly taken under the provisions of the 1908 Act, and the press and members of the public again left the Chamber."
These are extracts from the official report of the meeting which gave in what what actually happened at that meeting, such a distorted picture of which was given to this Committee by the hon. Member for Kirkdale, reported in column 24 of the Official Report of the first Sitting of the Committee. I therefore hope that, after what I have said, the hon. Member for Kirkdale will withdraw his statements.
Mr. N. Pannell
I do not withdraw, except that I admit that I cannot refute the accuracy of something in the report which the hon. Member has quoted, since it is an official record of the council meeting. In so far as I stated that the opinion of the town clerk was defied, and it is not mentioned specifically, I withdraw that accusation, but I cannot withdraw the accusations about flouting the spirit of the 1908 Act, by the subterfuge of going into committee, which was 203not because no public interest was involved, but was for the sole purpose of excluding the Press. All those accusations stand, and in that respect, I still say that this action was an abuse of the provisions of the 1908 Act in every respect. It flouted the letter, if not the spirit, [sic] of that Act. My accusations against the Council for its actions have been in effect confirmed by the intervention of the hon. Member, with a slight amendment on a point of procedure. The official record, of course, I accept, but I think the hon. Member is wrong, because the official report provides absolute confirmation of what I said. This was a gross abuse by the Liverpool City Council, as opposed to the practice of the great majority of the councils in the country, and it is an abuse which I hope this Bill will remove.
I am pleased to accept the withdrawal of certain statements by the hon. Member, who, of course, is entitled to his own personal view of the propriety or otherwise of the City Council's conduct. I am not going to enter into a discussion about that. I wish neither to defend nor attack the City Council for what they did. I only wish to get the matter straight. I can well understand their reasons for the action they took, which were explained in detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), and which the hon. Member either cannot or will not understand this morning. We are discussing two Amendments in the names of my hon. Friends and myself with a view to making improvements in the Bill as it stands at present.
I want to refer to a point made that now that the Committee has agreed to delete the word "press" in one place and replace with the word "public", it would be undesirable to give a local authority power to exclude the public as well as the Press because of an interruption in the normal production of newspapers. I also accept the point that we had no intention of excluding representatives of the Press where there were stoppages of newspapers for reasons other than industrial disputes.
I now want to refer to the second Amendment which is being considered with the one moved by my hon. Friend. What is proposed is not the exclusion 204of the Press from a meeting because there is an industrial dispute in the industry, but to allow the local authority if it desires—with no compulsion—quite properly to say that it is not going to give any special facilities to the Press. I assume that it might decide that the Press table should not be available and that Press representatives must sit in the public gallery. The Amendment would excuse the authority from the necessity which the Bill is imposing of having to provide a telephone and other reasonable facilities to assist the Press in taking its report.
Mr. C. Pannell
I would not want my hon. Friend to think that in the case to which I referred the local authority was attempting to deny facilities which were given in the ordinary way to the Press. The reporters sat at the normal Press table and had the full rights to take a note of the proceedings. The treatment was in line with that given by the great majority of local authorities in the country. In the main, Leeds City Council treated the Press rather better than average.
I was not saying that in Leeds the City Council withdrew the Press table, but I was saying what it would be possible for a local authority to do if our second Amendment were accepted. It would allow a local authority to get out of the provision of special facilities for the Press, facilities which this Bill is imposing upon it, and which, to the best of my knowledge, are not imposed at present. This, in general, is in line with the view taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and by the Leeds Council.
Local authorities and Government Departments have for a long time been bound in one way or another as to the attitude that they should take on wages and conditions when letting contracts. It is not binding upon local authorities, but is accepted by the vast majority. I want to refer to a debate which took place in the House of Commons on 14th October, 1946, on the Motion on fair wages moved by Mr. George Isaacs, who was then Minister of Labour. The first paragraph of that Motion, which was adopted by the House, said:
"That, in the opinion of this House, the Fair Wages Clauses in Government Contracts 205should be so amended as to provide as follows:—
1.—(a) The contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour not less favourable than those established for the trade or industry in the district where the work is carried out by machinery of negotiation or arbitration to which the parties are organisations of employers and trade unions representative respectively of substantial proportions of the employers and workers engaged in the trade or industry in the district."—[Official Report, 14th October, 1946; Vol. 427, col. 619.]
That has been adopted also by the vast majority of local authorities. I submit that it would perhaps be held to mean that if a local authority had a contract with a particular building firm, and there was an industrial dispute which meant that that firm's employees withdrew their labour, and then the employer employed "blackleg" labour in order to carry on with the contract, it would be justifiable for the local authority to say that this was not in accordance with the fair wage clause and that it would not allow him to employ "blackleg" labour to do this work.
The Resolution passed in 1946 only replaced and brought up to date other fair wage Resolutions of earlier years.
The difference between what the hon. Member has read out from the 1946 Resolution and what he is trying to conclude from it is that a local authority may be involved in a dispute because it is under contract to an employer, whereas in this case it is not under contract at all but would be interfering, or using the method suggested to interfere, in a dispute to which it was not a party.
I cannot accept that point. I was referring to a specific contract which a local authority might sign which would make it extremely difficult, at least, to concur in the contractor employing "blackleg" labour in the event of dispute. I agree that there is no contract here, but Clause 1 (3, c) will be far stronger than a contract. It will be an Act of Parliament imposing particular obligations on a local authority.
The second Amendment which, I hope, will be moved later, would make it obligatory for the local authority to provide certain facilities for the Press attending a meeting. It would be far stronger than a private contract. It 206would be an Act of Parliament to impose certain obligations on a local authority, not merely to allow the Press into a meeting but to give it particular facilities, to make it as easy and comfortable for the Press as possible to enable it to report the meeting.
I am prepared to give way on this as we have had an alteration in the Bill, but in the case of dispute a local authority should not be obliged to go out of its way to provide special facilities to make it as easy as possible for material to be gathered by a newspaper which is printing, probably, with a considerable number of "black leg" employees.
I hope, having been able to clear up the position of Liverpool City Council, and having discussed this matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) will agree to withdraw this Amendment, but I also hope that, in view of what has been said about the effect on other forms of a stoppage of newspaper production, we shall be able to look at the second Amendment between now and when we move it at a later stage and see if we can re-word it to meet the fair and legitimate objections to its present wording.
If we can do that, it will allow the local authority, if it so desires, to withdraw from the Press some of the special facilities that it has to provide under the Bill if it thinks it necessary in the light of any dispute in that particular industry.
Mr. H. Brooke
I think I should at this point briefly state the Government's view. I have no desire to make a long speech in the present circumstances. We believe in the freedom of the Press as an essential safeguard of liberty and order among our people. We further believe that local authorities should meet in public unless the strongest reasons of public general interest compel them in particular circumstances to meet in private.
We further believe that the good reputation of democratic local government as a whole rests in the hands of all local authorities; and any one local authority, by disregarding the spirit of the Act of Parliament and the principles which I should hope we all accept has it in its power to do grave damage to that reputation, which I hope we should all wish to see upheld. 207
I am not going to enter into these internecine disputes about what happened in Liverpool City Council, but I should, before we conclude our discussion of this Amendment, remind the Committee of the letter sent with my personal authority and approval to Nottingham City Council last summer. The full text of that letter is in Hansard of 23rd July, 1959, if any Member wishes to remind himself of it. That letter said:
"It has been represented to the Minister that it was quite clear from the proceedings that the reasons which moved the majority of the Council to take steps to exclude Press representatives from the recent meeting were not connected with the confidential nature of the business to be transacted, but were solely concerned with the present printing dispute; and further evidence of this is afforded by the fact that members of the public and a representative of the B.B.C. were allowed to remain. On his present information, the Minister finds it impossible to reach any different conclusion …
"Whether or not the action taken by the Council as described to the Minister offends the letter of the Act of 1908, he has no doubt that it is wholly contrary to the spirit of the Act and to the principles which local authorities should observe in their relations with the Press. The Minister has felt bound to say, in reply to representations, that he is wholly out of sympathy with any Council which deprives the local electors of the opportunity to inform themselves from Press reports about Council business. He has also said that he is wholly out of sympathy with any local authority which takes sides in an industrial dispute."—[Official Report, 23rd July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 165.]
All I wish to add to that on this occasion is that in my view those who have the privilege of being elected as councillors or aldermen have a duty to act in the best interests of the electors as a whole, and to take such steps as they may to render it possible for those electors to be kept fully informed on the actions which are taken by the council in their name. It is on those grounds that I very much hope that this Amendment will be withdrawn. If it is not withdrawn I shall unhesitatingly vote against it.
Can the Minister inform us whether the quotation that he has made from the letter is intended to convey confirmation of what I suggested originally; namely, that that is the reason why we have the Bill? Secondly, to how many councils did he send the circular?208
It was not a circular letter; it was a letter to the Nottingham City Council. But I arranged for copies to be sent to five or six other councils who had taken action—not identical to that taken by Nottingham—because I felt it desirable that they should be informed of the letter. It did not seem right that it should be a private document, and it was subsequently made available to the House.
The hon. Member has asked an important question—whether what happened last summer is the reason for the Bill. I cannot answer that question, because the Bill has been promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I can only express my view of it. I regard the Amendment as a quite subsidiary issue, important though it is. Even if there had been no printing dispute last summer, and even if the cases which have been referred to had never occurred, it would have been desirable to discuss these matters at a Parliamentary level.
I come back to what I said at the beginning of my speech, which I hoped had made my opinion clear. In my view, there is a general duty upon all local authorities to uphold the high reputation of local government. In order to do that, all local authorities must be prepared to proceed with their business in the open, unless there is the strongest general reason, which there can be in certain circumstances, against their doing so.
I am well aware that the unfortunate events of last summer tinged all subsequent discussion of the main question. That was bound to happen. But the main question remains, and I would hope that the Committee could give general support for the principle that, in normal circumstances, local authorities should hold their meetings and transact their business within the hearing of both the Press and the public. To me that is the kernel of what we are discussing. I agree that there may be differences of opinion as to how the object should be achieved. This matter is inevitably bound up with our discussions of what happened so recently, but in the Government's view the issue raised in the Amendment is subsidiary, and is not the main issue, which is of much more general import.209
I am of the opinion that the more appropriate place to seek to insert these words would be in Clause 1, page 2, line 21. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Does the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) wish to move his Amendment, in page 1, line 8?
The Question is——
On a point of order, Sir Norman. You will recollect that I was in the middle of my remarks when the Closure in connection with a previous Amendment was moved.
The understanding of the Chair was that this Amendment was discussed with others, and I undertook to call it for a Division only. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that ruling.
I thought that the discussion upon this Amendment was not closed. I agree that we discussed it in part, but the Closure was moved while I was replying to certain points in connection with this Amendment. There are a few points which I would like to put. I do not propose to detain the Committee for very long, but one or two points require clearing up, as a result of subsequent inquiries, and it would be in the interests of the Committee to have them cleared up.
When I announced what would happen in connection with the Amendment I informed the Committee that it would be called for a Division only, and that we could not have a further debate on it.
Mr. Glenvil Hall
No one would attempt to question your Ruling, Sir Norman, but I would like to put one point which may have escaped your memory. It is true that the matter was brought to a close when the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) moved the Closure—but the Motion was not carried. Therefore, in a sense it was as if the Closure had never been moved.
With respect, the Motion was carried on the first occasion, at the first sitting.210
Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry. I had to leave the room to go to another Committee, and was not present. It was not that Closure to which the hon. Lady is referring. In that case I withdraw my remarks.
May I respectfully draw your attention, Sir Norman, to the fact that when my hon. Friend's previous Amendment was being discussed you said—as is often said in Committee—that this Amendment would be called only on the assumption that there would be a Division. Normally we would have understood and accepted that Ruling without demur, but when you announced that decision it was surely on the assumption that here would be a normal discussion of my hon. Friend's first Amendment. We were under the impression that the discussion of my hon. Friend's first Amendment would proceed in the normal way.
What happened was something quite different and very extraordinary. When my hon. Friend was in process of replying to the debate on the Amendment other hon. Members had not risen to speak; it was clear that on any reasonable expectation his would be the last speech made; it was also clear that he was merely engaged in replying to points made during the debate and would not take an unreasonable time in doing so. Despite that, the Closure was moved when my hon. Friend was in the middle of his speech. That was something which no reasonable person would expect, and it alters the circumstances.
I hope that the hon. Member is not questioning my acceptance of the Closure. The position is quite clear to me. On the original discussion I said that I would select the Amendment for Division only. I must adhere to that Ruling. If the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) does not desire to move the Amendment, the Committee will pass on to the next.
I most certainly do desire to move the Amendment. Although I am bound to defer to you Ruling, Sir Norman, I am very dissatisfied, because some of the things which were said in Committee require further investigation. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. W. Smith) 211-212made certain remarks, and I have received further information in this connection which should be before the Committee.
Mr. Dudley Williams
On a point of order. It is impossible to hear what is going on from here. Would the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) mind speaking up?
No doubt the hon. Member for Southall will have heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams).
Certain points were raised in that discussion, and subsequent correspondence has made it clear that the Committee should be in possession of further facts——
The only thing which the hon. Member can do now is formally to move his Amendment. If he does 212not desire to do so, that is the end of the matter. As for the other matters about which the hon. Gentleman is speaking, he may be able to discuss them on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
I certainly do desire to move my Amendment.
Amendment proposed: In page 1, line 8, at end insert:
"in such circumstances and on such occasions and subject to such conditions as shall be set out in a code of practice and conduct to be prescribed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government after consultation with the Press and with associations representative of local authorities, and other bodies exercising public functions."—[Mr. Pargiter.]
Question put, That those words be there inserted.
The Committee divided: Ayes, 10, Noes 15.
Division No. 5.]
Hall , Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Pannell , Charies (Leeds, W.)
Pargiter , G. A.
Reynolds , G. W.
Skeffington , Arthur
Slater , Joseph (Sedgefield)[sic]
Stewart , Michael (Fulham)
Symonds , J. B.
Wilkins , W. A.
Yates , Victor (Ladywood)
Balniel , Lord
Bishop , F. P.
Brooke , Rt. Hon. Henry
Bullard , Denys
Castle , Mrs. Barbara
Cleaver , Leonard
Grimston , Sir Robert
Hocking , Philip N.
Jenkins , Robert (Dulwich)
Maddan , Martin
Pannell , Norman (Kirkdale)
Renton , David
Smith , Dudley (Br'intf'd & Chiswick)
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Williams , Dudley (Exeter)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, after "present" to insert "and voting".
Although the wording of the Amendment is very simple, it is important. It is wording which is commonly to be found in the standing orders of local authorities. Unless something of this kind is included in the Bill it may have some very unfortunate effects. In the event of a motion being moved to exclude the Press, and out of 15 members present five vote in favour of the Motion, a smaller number vote against it and the remainder do not vote at all; on the present interpretation of the Clause the Motion would not be carried. That is clearly not in the interests of anybody at any time. If someone does not care either way, and does not want to vote, he should not be recorded as having established a positive or negative vote. As at present drafted, the Clause would, in effect, make him vote against the Motion.
One can imagine all kinds of reasons why members might wish to refrain from voting. They might not have the courage to say "Yes" or "No"; they might think that the Press should be excluded but fear what the Press may say when subsequently reporting the names of those who voted. That position ought not to be permitted to arise, and I suggest that it is highly important that we should continue the practice which normally obtains with local authorities, which is that decisions are based on those present and voting, ignoring those who abstain, with certain statutory exceptions, such as the promotion of a Bill, where a proposal must be carried by a majority of all those present. That is a different matter; that is a statutory provision for a specific purpose. But for normal purposes it is generally accepted 213that we must have a decision by those present and voting. That is all I wish to establish by means of this Amendment, that the normal practice should be observed. It seems to me that we cannot do other than accept the Amendment.
I wish to support my hon. Friend, for the reasons which he has advanced and for two other important reasons. I regret the unavoidable absence today of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small). This is an important matter from the point of view of Scottish county councils. Members of those councils are appointed in a different way from the way in which members are elected to councils in England and Wales. In the Schedule to this Bill it is stated that county councils in Scotland as local authorities within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, are included in the provisions of this Bill.
In Scotland county councillors are appointed in two ways. Some are elected to represent the landward areas and others, who are members of burgh councils, are appointed to the county council to represent the interests of their burgh. As I understand it, they are not persons elected directly from the areas of burgh councils to the county council; it is an indirect representation. Because of the nature of the constitution of these county councils it is also provided that on certain matters affecting the landward areas the burgh members shall not speak or vote. I believe that the converse also applies, though I am not certain about that.
As this Clause is drafted it is, to say the least, a very unsatisfactory position which may or may not be workable, and I wish to remove the ambiguity by the insertion of this Amendment. A matter might come up for discussion in a Scottish county council which was of interest only to the representatives of the landward areas. The burgh members would not be entitled to have any say. It might be decided that during the discussion on this matter it would be advisable to exclude the Press, or the public as it is now. A vote would have to be taken, and as the Clause is 214drafted, there would have to be a majority of those present one way or the other. What is not clear, and it is doubtful whether it would be in order, is whether the burgh members could vote on a motion to exclude the public while discussion was going on on a matter which affected only the land ward areas. As it would be a procedural motion, it might be in order for the burgh members to vote on it but I prefer not to take a chance but to clear up the point by accepting the Amendment.
I believe that there are about thirty county councils in Scotland, and a matter of this kind is likely to arise at some time or other at a meeting of any of those councils. We may be told that there is no doubt about it and that burgh members would be able to vote on a procedural matter of this kind, but I prefer that we put the question beyond doubt by accepting the Amendment.
As drafted, the Clause refers to members who are present. We ought to be told what is meant by "present". It is possible that a number of councillors may have left before the meeting ends. But they will be regarded as being present at the meeting although they are not in the chamber when a motion to exclude the public is deal with. That may be all right, but I should like an assurance that the fact that a member is not in the chamber means that he is not to be counted as being present. It may be that councillors have not left the confines of the building in which the meeting is held. In some authorities, particularly in the authority which meets on the other side of the river, the meetings go on for several hours. It is normal for members of the council to leave the debating chamber for a number of reasons, and a snap vote might be taken and they would not be present to record their votes. So that even though the Amendment be not accepted, I should like an assurance that "present" means that councillors must be sitting in the chamber at the time the vote is taken and not just having been present at some earlier stage of the proceedings. I agree with the arguments which were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and I also urge the two additional points which I have made and which I hope will be considered.215
May I give a snap answer to the latter point made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds)? I know that the Committee will not take my opinion as competent legal advice, but I can only give my opinion.
I think that the words "members present" must mean members present at the time when a division occurs upon a motion. If that were not the case, suppose the meeting started with 20 members present and 11 had gone out for coffee, a motion could be passed unanimously by the other 9. Yet it would fall because there is another interpretation in the Bill and that would mean that members had to "clock in" as it were. I could not agree with the interpretation. Unless I am advised to the contrary, I think it must mean members present at the time when a vote is taken and I do not share the doubts of the hon. Member on that point.
Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Lady refers to a division by members present, but where must they be present? Must they be present in the council chamber or within call? The way in which a division is conducted varies in different authorities.
I think it would mean present and voting.
Present and voting?
Present and voting.
That is what we want.
Present and able to vote—I beg the pardon of hon. Members; present and able to vote, as we are all present here and able to vote on this occasion.
Regarding the other point made by the [ G. W. Reynolds ] hon. Member for Islington, North, I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, but on the figures given—I believe I took them down correctly—suppose there were 15 members present and 5 voted to exclude the public, with 4 against, I can only point out that if the Amendment be accepted, the Press could be excluded only by a resolution voted for by one-third of those present and able to vote. I would have some doubts about that, but I think that if the Press and public are to be excluded it should be after a 216much clearer expression of the opinion of the council.
Mr. C. Pannell
It is the fact that the phraseology suggested in the Amendment is common to the standing orders of almost every local authority. I remember collecting copies of a great many standing orders when we were framing regulations for the Kent County Council. If the hon. Lady accepts the Amendment, I do not think it would weaken the Bill.
I ask my hon. Friend to accept this Amendment. It is wording which is common to authorities throughout the country. Four members might vote in favour and 5 against on one occasion, but on another, 4 might vote against and 5 in favour. Those people who were sufficiently interested would vote. There have been many occasions, even in this Committee room, when hon. Members have abstained from voting and, owing to the rules of the House there were not 14 members in favour of a Motion, and therefore it was not carried. Hon. Members exercise their right to abstain and I think that councillors have every right to vote for or against or to abstain; those are the three ways in which they can exercise their rights when a division is called. If we have the words "present and voting", the decision will have to be arrived at by those present at the meeting who desire to vote, which is common practice, and so I urge my hon. Friends to accept the Amendment. I should certainly vote in favour of it.
I hope that the hon. Lady will take the advice which has been tendered to her. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) said rightly that a councillor may vote for, or against, or abstain. The effect created by the Bill as it is drafted is the odd one that if a person decides to abstain, his vote shall be taken as a vote against, and that would apply only to this matter.
Why should that be so? It is quite possible for an important decision on an important matter to be taken in a meeting of a council by a limited number of members voting for it because even a smaller number of members voted against it. If the hon. Lady is indicating that she is prepared to accept the Amendment, I will curtail my remarks.217
I was so indicating. As no further opinions have been expressed against the Amendment, I shall be happy to accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
On a point of order, Sir Norman. May I raise a matter which relates to what happened at the first Sitting of the Committee when we asked whether he could be given a document alleged to state the authorities in this country who were bad authorities as referred to in this Bill——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that that is not a point of order. I have no powers——
You have not heard it yet, Sir Norman.
I have no authority to compel any hon. Member to produce any document from which he quotes.218
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) did his best to obtain for me a copy of the document by writing to the Guild of Newspaper Editors asking that a copy be sent to me. But I have not yet received it. A Local Authority Association has tried to get a copy of this document from the Guild of Newspaper Editors, but it has written to me saying that it has been refused a copy.
Order. That is a dispute between the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith).
Amendment made: In page 1, line 10, leave out "press" and insert "public".— [Mrs. Thatcher.]
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put pursuant to the Standing Order.
Committee adjourned till Wednesday, 13th April, 1960, at half-past ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee
Hurbert, Sir Norman (Chairman)
Brooke, Mr. H.
de Ferranti, Mr.
Glyn, Dr. A.
Grimston, Sir R.
Hall, Mr. Genvil
Harris, Mr. R.
Jenkins, Mr. Robert
Pannell, Mr. C.
Pannell, Mr. N.
Smith, Mr. D.
Stewart, Mr. M.
Thomas, Mr. I.
Williams, Mr. Dudley
Yates, Mr. V.