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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
During the passage of the Bill in the other place, we were asked whether it was our intention to insert into this Bill a similar provision to that which had been included in the Industry Bill with regard to the National Enterprise Board and the relationships of that body and the agency to the newspaper or television industries. This has implications for the freedom of the Press.
In the other place my noble Friend the then Minister of State made it clear that employment grounds were the only justification for the Scottish Development Agency being involved in the news media. He said that the necessary clause would be put in the Bill to make that clear. This new clause applies to this Bill, with the clause in the Industry Bill, the necessary changes.
In order to explain what the new clause does, I must explain the corresponding clause in the Industry Bill. It is rather a long and complicated clause, although its basic intention is clear enough. It is that the Scottish Development Agency should not be involved with newspapers or television companies, with certain reservations or qualifications. Clause 9(1) of the Industry Bill ensures that the Agency and any subsidiary of the Scottish Development Agency is prevented from setting up business to publish newspapers, magazines or other periodicals and from contracting as a television contractor with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. However, subsection (2) contains the reservation that the Agency will be able to establish periodicals wholly or mainly concerned with its activities. Therefore, journals or other similar magazines will be permissible.
Subsection (3) prevents the Agency generally and its subsidiaries from acquiring share capital in companies or groups of companies that are substantially engaged in the media activities which I have already mentioned. However, subsection (4) allows the Agency to acquire share capital in such companies if directed to do so under Clause 5 of this Bill, under the selective assistance procedure of the Industry Act 1972, which the Agency would operate under the specific direction only of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I should make it clear that the Agency could be involved with newspapers or television, but it would be on the basis of a specific direction using the powers of the Secretary of State to give that direction. It would be done by making use of the selective assistance provisions of the Industry Act, 1972. A further subsection of the clause in the Industry Bill provides that if incidentally the Agency or its subsidiaries acquired share capital they would have to use the power of that share capital in a way which ensured that they disposed of the business as soon as practicable. It is not possible to make that an absolute provision because there may be circumstances in which the Agency, if it acted precipitately, would unwittingly damage an innocent publication. There are provisions in the clause to provide a reservation for that circumstance.
There are similar provisions in the clause, which I need not outline, which are directed basically to the same kind of objective. I hope that hon. Members who have read the appropriate clause in the Industry Bill will accept that the clause is adequately and rather tightly drafted from this point of view. If the Agency were involved in a company publishing a newspaper or in television, it would be specifically prevented by the clause from exercising its power other than on financial or commercial grounds. In other words, it is specifically prevented from using its power to influence editorial opinion. That is one of the basic purposes of the clause.
I have explained the general position, but plainly there is a particular example, the Scottish Daily News, which is very much in our minds and I should like to say a few words about it without, I hope, opening up the whole question which I shall be delighted to have fully debated in the House on some other occasion. I hope that it is clear from what I have said that there will still be provision after the clause is passed for the present Government or any other Government in appropriate circumstances to help a newspaper business in Scotland by loans or grants through the Scottish Development Agency or by selective assistance under the Industry Act. That is not prohibited by anything proposed in the clause. If the Bill had been an Act when the question of the Scottish Daily News arose earlier this year, nothing would have prevented the Government from behaving exactly as they did, because what they did was done under the powers of the selective assistance available in the Industry Act 1972.
I have very little to add to what the Prime Minister said in answer to a Question this afternoon, namely, that steps are being taken for a provisional liquidator to be appointed. There was a meeting this morning at which Mr. Whitton, who is to be nominated as the provisional liquidator, was present, together with members of the executive council of the Scottish Daily News and the Prime Minister and other Ministers, including the Secretary of State and myself. It will take a day or two for the position to be clarified, but when the provisional liquidator is appointed—and that is a matter which may go through the court today—he will need a few days in which to make his own assessment of the situation and he will then no doubt be in touch with creditors, including the Government, as he is legally obliged to do.
I should make one point without trying to anticipate what the liquidator may wish to say, because it would be improper for me to do that. The general legal position in a matter of this sort is that the business can be carried on if the liquidator takes the view that it is in the interests of the creditors that that should happen. Whether he will take that view and, if he does, for how long and in what circumstances he would wish to carry on the business are matters for the liquidator The work force has said that it is very anxious that the newspaper should be carried on and that it will give the liquidator every possible assistance towards that end.
The Government are creditors and have a general public interest rôle in this matter. Therefore, I have already made contact with the provisional liquidator and had a talk with him. When he has assessed the situation, it will be for him to decide whether he wishes to put any proposal to the Government. Anything that he puts to us will be carefully considered.
Apart from matters of order, I am reluctant to say more than that, but I thought that that preliminary statement would help the House. I am reluctant to say anything which might make the task of the work force and the liquidator any more difficult than plainly it will be, but in this rather unhappy situation, particularly over the next few days, I hope that all of us will remember that a substantial number of jobs are involved at the Scottish Daily News. There is some responsibility on us to remember that we should not do or say anything which might make the situation even more difficult.
The Opposition in general strongly welcome the new clause as being an improvement on the Bill. In Committee the Opposition continually stressed the new and unprecedented power being given to the Scottish Development Agency and its parent board, the National Enterprise Board, creating a grave risk of abuse in a series of areas affecting the public interest. Broadcasting is one of the most important of them, and for that reason we welcome the clause.
However, an additional reason why we welcome the clause is that today gives us the first opportunity to consider the details of the clause in relation not simply to this Bill but to the Industry Bill. The clause did not appear in the original Industry Bill. It was not presented during the Committee stage of the Industry Bill. Only during the Report stage as recently as 1st July did the House have the opportunity of considering the matter. In fact, that is an exaggeration because even on 1st July the House did not have the opportunity to consider it due to the Government's decision to apply the guillotine to the Industry Bill. We have had no opportunity to debate before today the vitally important question of the control or possible influence of the Scottish Development Agency or the National Enterprise Board on the media.
Despite the lack of debate on 1st July when the clause was presented during consideration of the Industry Bill, as many as 66 hon. Members opposite chose to vote against it—
—including the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). On that occasion we did not hear why they opposed the clause, the sole purpose of which was to prevent a non-elected body from being able to control or influence a vital organ concerned with freedom of speech. We shall be interested to see whether the same 66 gallant defenders of freedom of speech today divide the House in opposition to the Government.
In particular, I await to hear the views of the hon. Members for West Stirlingshire, Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), three of the 12 Scottish Labour Members who voted against the clause when the House considered the Industry Bill. We wonder whether they will be consistent in their opposition and divide the House again, this time perhaps giving us the benefit of hearing their reasons for doing so. If they choose not to do so, we shall be anxious to hear why their views have changed in the short time which has elapsed since 1st July. Those three hon. Members in particular have a duty to the Government, to the House and to their electors to say why they opposed the clause when the Industry Bill was considered but, unless they divide the House today, support its inclusion in this Bill.
Although in general the National Enterprise Board and the Scottish Development Agency are to be prevented from initiating new opportunities in journalism or acquiring shares in existing broadcasting or journalistic operations, in a situa- tion in which financial help was deemed to be necessary by the Secretary of State, it will be possible for the SDA or the NEB to acquire a proportion of share capital in newspapers or other media in Scotland. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the criteria which will determine whether the NEB or the SDA should exercise such a power. This is yet another example of the obscure and unnecessary duplication involved in the parallel presence in Scotland of the NEB and the SDA.
The Minister indicated that there might be occasions when it was necessary for part control in newspapers to be acquired by the Government. What criterion would determine whether the Scottish Office or the Department of Industry would exercise that right? The Government may exercise their power to give financial assistance to a newspaper, or to enable the Agency acting on the Government's behalf to acquire partial control of the newspaper's share capital. The Minister correctly said that normally the Government would be required to dispose of that interest as soon as practicable. Under the terms of the Industry Bill the Secretary of State may allow the National Enterprise Board or the Scottish Development Agency not to dispose of an interest in the share capital of a newspaper if, without such a direction, serious commercial injury would be caused to any newspaper, magazine or periodical.
That begs certain questions. We presume that the power to acquire share capital would be used only if the newspaper experienced a serious commercial problem. Is the Minister saying that if, in the exercise of these powers, the Government gave financial assistance to a newspaper in Scotland, the Scottish Development Agency could continue to own, control or have a major influence in the affairs of the newspaper until the commercial problem, or the financial difficulties which formed the original reason for the Government intervention, has disappeared? If that is the Minister's argument, it makes a mockery of the provision requiring the Agency to dispose of its interest as soon as reasonably practicable.
The Minister is duty bound to explain in what circumstances the Secretary of State would be entitled to direct the Agency to continue to control a significant degree of the share capital of a newspaper.
The Minister said that we were not discussing this question in a vacuum. The Scottish Daily News is now experiencing its death throes. Unless there is a dramatic change in Government policy it is highly unlikely that the Scottish Daily News will be able to survive. It is not adequate for the Minister to say that if the powers which he now seeks had been contained in legislation earlier this year the Government might have acted in the same way.
If the discretion exercised by the Government earlier this year in relation to the Scottish Daily News appears to have such pointless consequences, and if it has not ensured the survival of the newspaper in Scotland, does this not question the basis whether financial help by the Government to any newspaper can be in the public interest? Is the Minister satisfied that the grant of a loan of £1·2 million to the Scottish Daily News earlier this year ensured that the public interest was properly protected? If at that time the Government were satisfied that this newspaper was viable, do the Government believe that their opinion has been proved to be correct? Were they wrongly informed about the financial viability of the Scottish Daily News? If so, when will the House be informed of the facts? If the Government were correctly informed, has the Government's judgment been shown to be sadly lacking? If the Scottish Daily News is on the verge of extinction, does that not suggest that the Government, in the exercise of their discretion, boobed or made a mistake in loaning public money to the newspaper? A proper evaluation at the time might have shown that that was not a reasonable way in which to use public money.
Does the hon. Gentleman say that it is wrong for the Government to take risks in giving away such sums of money? If the Scottish Daily News is about to fold up, that might be the result of what happened since the loan was granted rather than have anything to do with the basic grounds on which the Government decision was made.
The hon. Gentleman highlights the problems. Were the Gov- ernment advised? Was advice available to the Government from the various sources which made their views known at the time ovewhelmingly to the effect that this newspaper could survive as a viable entity if only the money was loaned to it? At the time it was apparent to those who read the viability report on the Scottish Daily News that the advice was to the contrary. The Government took the decision in conflict with that advice and must now meet the consequences.
The hon. Gentleman says that the present events occurred as a result of what has happened since the money was loaned. That forms an important aspect of the problem. However, it does not detract from the Government's responsibility to satisfy Parliament and the electorate that in going against the advice of those who studied the subject the Government endangered public money and may still be doing so.
The Government announced that there was to be no further financial help to the Scottish Daily News. Does that represent the continuing position of the Government? Many of us were surprised at the decision of the Prime Minister to meet members of the staff of the Scottish Daily News. We do not object to that in principle. However, we wonder what is the purpose behind that. Was that meant to be a public relations exercise? If so, is that not the worst form of cruelty to the hopes and aspirations of those who work in the Scottish Daily News? If that is more than a public relations exercise, and suggests a willingness by the Government to contemplate a change of their publicly announced policy, the Government must inform Parliament that they have an open mind on this question, that they are prepared to be convinced if the evidence is there, and that they would be willing to give extra financial help to the Scottish Daily News by means of either the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill or other legislation. The Government gave us no information. The Prime Minister's answer did not clarify the point. Will the Minister explain the position of the Government and whether a final decision has been taken or whether the Government continue to have an open mind on this subject?
Before calling other speakers, I must explain that I am in a difficulty. I understand that the Minister referred to a newspaper. That is why I allowed the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) to develop his argument at length. However, my common sense tells me that that is an illustration of what is involved in the clause, rather than the main debate being centred on the subject of the Scottish newspaper.
I am sure that we shall respect your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
However, perhaps I might be allowed a passing remark on the Minister's comment on the Scottish Daily News. I promise to be brief. I wish that newspaper well. The more newspapers there are in Scotland, the better. If it proves to be a success, I shall be pleased. However, the Government were warned that the industry was generating enormous cost for itself. They were warned that the newspaper would probably fail.
We are constantly told that there is a dire need for effective investment. One reason why we are short of investment is that our savings, whether Government or private, are often wasted. There is no point in investing money unless it is invested in enterprises which yield profit and benefit. This newspaper will most likely provide an example where that will not occur.
The Minister spoke of the relationship of these Development Agency advisory boards to broadcasting, radio companies and the Press. He said that the Government would not interfere with editorial policy. The accepted wisdom is that proprietors should not interfere with editorial policy. As a trustee of The Guardian, I accept that view up to a point. It would be monstrous if proprietors or those who invested in the media constantly interfered with the editor in the day-to-day functions he has to perform. It would also be monstrous if, like Pontius Pilate, they washed their hands and said that whatever the broadcasting company or newspaper did was no concern of theirs.
In general, I am against totally divorcing finance from any responsibility for the conduct of the business in which it is invested. In the Press that is of particular importance. Anyone who invests money in the Press thereby puts a stake in it to get something out of it. A proprietor of a newspaper has a delicate job. He has to keep clear of day-to-day interference, but if editorial policy ever becomes Fascist, Communist, libellous, irresponsible or takes to cheque-book journalism he cannot say "That is nothing to do with me".
There is a point at which proprietors must be held responsible, and those who invest large sums of money must also be held responsible. It is difficult to judge. It is time that someone at least questioned the conventional wisdom that Press proprietors who are trustees, like myself, Press Lords and nationalised corporations can be exempted from all responsibility for editorial policy.
That aspect is particularly important where Government money is involved as it is here. Government money carries with it different implications. I ask the Government to put this specific point to the Royal Commission on the Press which is now sitting. The Commission will consider whether it is proper for Government money to be put behind the Press and it will consider editorial responsibility, but I should like the attention of the Commission to be drawn to this explicit power and I should like the Commission to be asked what code of conduct should govern the National Enterprise Board or any similar body when it puts substantial sums of money into a broadcasting company, a television company or the Press.
The clause is an attempt to transpose into the Bill a new clause which was inserted in the Industry Bill. I question the legality of referring in the clause to the Industry Act 1975 when the Industry Bill has not yet been passed, although some of us hope that it soon will be, even in mutilated form.
The Government's logic seems to be that because the National Enteprise Board is precluded from taking share capital in media concerns, the Scottish Development Agency should likewise be precluded from so doing. The logic seems to be that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, but the Government have a duty to find a far better justification than that.
The new clause to which I refer in the Industry Bill was sneaked in on 1st July. I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), but there was no debate on the new clause and its acceptance without debate was one of the unfortunate results of the timetable motion. Hon. Members were trundled down from all over the place, not knowing what they were voting for. They followed the Whips' advice and went into the Lobby. On that occasion 68 hon. Members, including myself—all Labour Members—had taken the trouble to read the new clause before voting and had registered an objection to it.
The argument in favour of the new clause appears to be the fear that Government financing of media concerns automaticaly means Government or even party domination or bias. But surely it it possible for the clause to be reworded to guarantee editorial freedom. I believe in the editorial freedom of the Press and in freedom of expression. If democracy is to survive, freedom of expression must be maximised.
Within the last week we have heard a great deal about the freedom of the Press. Last Thursday in this House we had a debate on that subject and yesterday in the House of Lords there was a debate about the freedom of the Press with particular reference to a clause in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. It is all very well for Opposition Members to decry what they see as a lack of freedom because of the possibility of a closed shop in the National Union of Journalists, but the biggest threat to the freedom of the Press anywhere, particularly in Scotland, is a decline in the number of newspapers, especially those which have a wide circulation.
Over the years there has been a marked decline in the number of popular daily newspapers published in Scotland because of the failure of private enterprises which run the newspapers. As a result of mergers, certain people have a monopoly in the expression of opinion. No doubt Opposition Members say that the private proprietors of the Press do not interfere with editorial freedom, but the system works in a more subtle way than that.
There may have been occasions in the past when Beaverbrook and other Press barons of yesteryear went into the editor's room and said "You will not print that story on the front page; you will print this one", or "Take out that sentence and insert this one instead". It is done in a more subtle manner now. The editor knows the political views of his proprietor or proprietors and he says to himself "For the sake of my own career, I had better not put this slant on the story". One would be naive to imagine that that does not occur right the way through from the most junior journalist to the most senior.
In talking of the freedom of the Press, whose freedom are we referring to? Are we talking about the freedom of the proprietors or the freedom of the advertisers? When an editor decides what to print or what not to print, one criterion he uses is whether it will or will not please the advertisers. He asks himself whether the newspaper is in danger of losing thousands or possibly millions of pounds per year in advertising revenue if he puts a story into print.
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was about to move on. It is a misconception by Opposition Members that Government financing of the media automatically involves the Government in the nitty-gritty editorial decision-making of a newspaper. I do not accept that at all. Governments of various hues have introduced legislation providing Government finance in areas as diverse as industry, sport, education, tourism and the arts. A precedent has already been established in the media through the BBC. It is a public corporation with a certain amount of governmental control, with governmental revenue-raising powers. Why should not that principle be extended to newspapers?
I make a brief reference to the Scottish Daily News which the Minister has mentioned. Here I declare an interest. Along with many other people, most of them ordinary Scottish working people, I put my hand into my pocket to help get that newspaper off the ground. I have £25 worth of shares in the Scottish DailyNews. I would like to see the paper survive, not just because I want my shares to survive but because I care about the workers' interests and the interests of the Scottish public. The Government have helped a great deal with a £1·2 million loan. Conservative Members may think that this is money down the drain, but it was not a public handout. It was a Government loan and as such it is recoverable on the collateral of the building.
The Scottish Daily News has, contrary to some opinion, achieved a lot in less than six months. Normally it takes at least a year to get a newspaper established. It would probably take longer in today's economic climate. It is a tribute to the workers in the Scottish Daily News that they have managed to double the newspaper's circulation and treble its advertising since it went tabloid a few weeks ago.
There are 531 jobs at stake on this newspaper. But it is not only the jobs which concern me. These workers, in my opinion and in the opinion of hundreds of thousands of readers in Scotland, are doing a good job. They are producing a good newspaper. Earlier I spoke about the diminution, not only in quality but in quantity, of the Scottish Press. It is worth remembering that there is only one other popular newspaper in Scotland which is printed, published and entirely produced in Scotland. Therefore, it is not simply jobs that are at stake; it is freedom of the Press and the variety of expression among organs of the Press in Scotland.
This clause precludes the possibility of the Scottish Development Agency investing in a venture such as the Scottish Daily News. If the Government cannot help the News by way of either investment or loan, it is obvious that some shark may come along and take the paper over. That will be one more paper which, instead of being controlled by the workers and consumers, will be in the hands of private enterprise, possibly in the hands of someone who seeks to manipulate public opinion. Let us not kid ourselves. There are people like that who use proprietorship of the Press in an irresponsible manner.
I disagree. Those of us who sit for northern constituencies are aware that the Aberdeen Press and Journal is one of the leading papers in the Highlands. I have no interest to declare. It is worth noting that that newspaper has a circulation more than the combined circulation of the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. Although it may not be popular in the eyes of the hon. Gentleman, it is a highly popular paper in the area in which it circulates. The hon. Gentleman should not—
May I get in on the act and say what a good paper the Press and Journal is? Surely the point is that it is not a national newspaper and that it has not got an all-Scottish circulation.
I was about to explain that to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a Welshman you may not know that the Press and Journal, be it good, bad or indifferent, could not be described as a paper which is circulated throughout the whole of Scotland. The Scottish Daily News, although produced in Glasgow, not only goes up to Aberdeen; it goes to the Borders, the Western Isles and so on. I apologise if the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) misunderstood me. That was what I meant when I said that there was only one other popular daily newspaper in Scotland covering virtually the whole of Scotland.
Like myself, the hon. Member for Pentlands checked up on the voting records for 1st July. I have looked at the names of those who registered a protest against the insertion of this clause in the Industry Bill. It is interesting to note that out of the 68 persons who did so, including two Tellers, there were only 12 Scotsmen. Those 12 Scottish apostles are all members of the Labour Party.
I hope that we shall show a consistency this afternoon by not accepting this new clause. I hope that the Minister will take it back and try to reword it so as to guarantee editorial freedom without precluding the possibility of an investment by the Scottish Development Agency in any part of the media. What is at stake here is first of all the employment prospects for those involved and secondly the opportunity for wider expression of opinion to Scottish readers. By opposing this new clause, we shall help to ensure the right to work among Scottish newspaper workers and at the same time we shall be fighting for freedom of expression in the Scottish Press.
I shall be as consistent as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and I shall oppose the new clause. I do not see the Scottish Development Agency as an instrument of benevolent capitalism operating in Scotland to pick up the odd newspaper that runs into trouble, help restore it to good fortune and economic health and then hand it back to private individuals who are, in the strict literary sense of the term, irresponsible in that there is no public accountability or responsibility for the editorial policy which a newspaper insists on pursuing.
I see no danger in the Agency not being lumbered with the inhibitions with which the Industry Bill will lumber the National Enterprise Board. I can understand the apprehension of any hon. Member about the Press or any other part of the media falling under what is called State bureaucratic control—when faceless men and the State Government machine issue the editorial orders and editors and journalists fulfil those orders whether or not they want to. If we look at the Bill, and indeed at the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill—I am not quite sure where that is at the moment—it will be seen that there are safeguards. Clause 2(2)(f) says that one of the functions of the Agency shall be the promotion of industrial democracy in undertakings which the Agency controls.
I believe it would be a good thing for the media if the Scottish Development Agency assisted in the promotion of industrial democracy in the Scottish Press as part of its operation. I do not see how any of my hon. Friends could object to that. The alternative is that we continue with the Press in private hands but give the people the right to determine how many newspapers shall circulate in Scotland, the quality of those papers and their editorial policy. In effect, we shall give them the right to take over the Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald or the Daily Record, for example.
It may not be within the ken of some hon. Members, but according to my information the Daily Record could be vulnerable in the years that lie ahead. I understand that the holding company has taken property from the Daily Record and Sunday Mail and transferred it to another company, taking away an important capital asset. If the paper ever runs into difficulty in future it will have no capital in the bank to see it over a difficult period. What would happen in those circumstances? Would the Agency intervene to shore up the paper, put it back on its feet and then be forced to hand it back to some other private entrepreneur who will in due course present the paper with the same problems?
I think that my hon. Friend has made a valid point. I hope that it is reported in the Aberdeen Press.
There is an important safeguard in Clause 4—namely, the power of the Secretary of State to give the Agency directions. There is power for the Secretary of State to give not only general but specific directions. Therefore, if the Agency ran amok in the Scottish newspaper industry there is sufficient power, either here or in the Scottish Assembly, to ensure that it behaves itself in a proper democratic manner. We need not fear State control given that safeguard.
I remind my Front Bench that the Labour Party has a commitment within its manifesto to encourage the development of co-operative enterprises. I believe that the Agency could do a magnificent job in the advancement of democracy where it matters most—namely, where opinions are conveyed from the opinion makers to the ordinary citizens. I shall oppose new Clause 1.
I hope that if my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) opposes new Clause 1 he will do so on the basis of what the clause seeks to do and not on his interpretation of it. I believe that my hon. Friend misunderstands what the clause does. It does not invite the Scottish Development Agency to take up newspapers which might be in financial difficulty, put them back on their feet and then return them to private enterprise. The clause does not allow the Agency to pick up newspapers in the first place, as I have already tried to point out. The clause, for reasons which I shall explain again, would prevent the Agency becoming involved directly in the kind of rescue operation which my hon. Friend has described, whether or not at the end of the day there was to be a return of the enterprise concerned to private enterprise. I believe that my hon. Friend misunderstands the purpose of the clause.
I have already said that nothing in the clause prejudices in any way Section 7 of the Industry Act 1972, which allows selective financial assistance to be given to a newspaper enterprise in the same way as to any other enterprise. That does not arise from the legislation of the present Government; that is what is contained in the 1972 Act. Section 7 applies to newspaper enterprises in the same way as it applies to any other enterprise. There is nothing in the clause which in any way diminishes the powers of Section 7 of the 1972 Act.
Far from the Government being in favour of the power of selective assistance being used in a way which would mean that private enterprise would be rescued when it was unprofitable and then passed back to private enterprise when it was profitable once more, what will be the Industry Act 1975 specifically amends the 1972 Act in a way which means that the legislative provisions in the earlier Act, which provide that any equity taken up in the form of selective assistance shall be disposed of as soon as possible, will be eliminated. Therefore, there is no question of the Agency doing what my hon. Friend obviously fears. Nor is there any question of that being done by the exercise of selective assistance under the 1972 Act. The kind of transaction to which my hon. Friend is opposed—and I share his opposition—is eliminated by the amendments to the 1972 Act which will be contained in the new 1975 Act, which is still before the House. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that statement of the position. If he wishes to oppose the clause, I hope that he will do so for rather different reasons.
With respect, I do not think that I have made a technical point. As I have already said, the Agency can be involved in selective assistance generally—this applies to a newspaper as well—by means of a direction given by the Secretary of State under Clause 5 that selective assistance in any particular case may be carried out by the SDA as an agent of the Secretary of State rather than directly by the Secretary of State himself.
Why is it that we are adopting this way of proceeding? Why is it that we are saying that the Agency, which will be financed directly by the Government, should not be involved of its own volition in the acquisition of share capital in newspaper production or television broadcasting? The simple answer is that important questions of editorial freedom are raised.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that he did not share the conventional view that the management or proprietors of a newspaper should be completely unaware of editorial content, should disregard it and should never interfere. It is not for me to argue that general proposition, but it is the sort of matter which is perfectly relevant to put before the Royal Commission. I have a good deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but there is a difference in this argument between the case where the proprietor is either a private individual or a private company or trust, as it happens to be in the case of The Guardian and one or two other newspapers, and an instance where the Government are the proprietors. Whatever we may feel about proprietors or trusts interfering in editorial content, and however disagreeable we may find some of these interventions to be, there is an entirely different question involved from that of a Government or Government agency's intervention in the editorial content of a newspaper.
That immediately raises the implications of the Government attempting to direct the editorial policy of a newspaper in a way that would be favourable to the Government's point of view. Whatever we may feel about the SDA's involvement in the newspaper business, and whatever we may feel about Section 7 assistance, there would be general acceptance of the proposition that the Government or a Government agency should not interfere in the editorial direction and content of a newspaper. That would raise serious problems from the point of view of editorial freedom and freedom of expression of opinion.
To say that does not mean that all of us are absolutely happy about the present position concerning editorial content or editorial freedom. I personally am not. But it is not a solution to that problem to suggest that a Government Department, a Minister or a Government agency should be involved in the editorial content of a newspaper or a television broadcasting company. That is why this provision is in the new clause. I need not go beyond saying that.
I think that answers the main point of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), because he said that there had not been a debate about this or a Government justification for what we are doing here. The Government justification is as I have expressed it here and subject to the qualifications about Section 7, and so on, which I have already described to the House.
I was asked whether in any particular case it would be the Scottish Development Agency rather than the National Enterprise Board that would be involved. Under the Bill it would clearly be the Scottish Development Agency, because there is no mention of the National Enterprise Board in the Bill. So far as any body would be involved in the Bill by means of a direction in a selective assistance case, it would be the Scottish Development Agency and not the National Enterprise Board.
With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman mentioned a point about the divisison of responsibility between the Scottish Development Agency and the National Enterprise Board which does not arise on this clause. The division of responsibility to which he should have been directing his mind is that between the Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Scotland in selective assistance cases. That has already been determined within the Government by administrative means. The transfer of responsibilities for Section 7 cases to the Secretary of State has been in operation since 1st July this year, and it is working at administrative level perfectly adequately. There are occasionally cases where both Departments may be involved, but there is no particular difficulty about that.
I was also asked about the Scottish Daily News, and I have very little to add to what I said when introducing the clause. I was asked what was the purpose of the Prime Minister's meeting this morning. It was specifically that which the Prime Minister himself made clear to the works council in the reply that he sent to its request for a meeting—to enable the Government's decisions and the background to them to be explained directly to the works council, with the Prime Minister there and by the Ministers directly concerned. That was what happened this morning.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained, the holding of the meeting did not anticipate any change in Government policy, which had already been made clear to the works council. That was made clear at this morning's meeting. The works council also put certain points to the Prime Minister and the other Ministers present at the meeting. In any case, the situation has changed in the sense that later this week a provisional liquidator will be appointed, and he will take over the responsibilities which at the present time are being discharged by the works council.
I have said that the Government policy remains, and this was made clear to the works council this morning. The provisional liquidator will be appointed tomorrow and, as I said earlier, he will have to be in touch with the Government as a creditor, just as he will with the other creditors. He will be acting on the basis of responsibility towards creditors and will therefore have to be in touch with us. It will be part of his legal responsibilities so to be. I have already had a preliminary informal conversation with him. As I said earlier, whatever the liquidator puts to the Government as creditor—he will put propositions also to the other creditors—will be very carefully considered. That is the position at the present time.
The only other point concerning the Scottish Daily News was that made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) as to the assessment of viability of the Scottish Daily News at the time that the newspaper was launched and Government assistance was granted. There was absolutely no misunderstanding about this situation. No one believed that this was a sure-fire certainty for success. Indeed, the Government insisted that in the prospectus issued by the company, when it invited public subscription, there were inserted the assessments made by the various studies into the possible viability of the project, so that any potential investors in the company would know absolutely clearly—here we had particularly in mind the worker shareholders themselves—the risks they were taking in investing in the company.
That was all spelt out in very considerable detail in the public prospectus issued at the time. It was done at Government insistence. The Government appreciated as well as anyone else that this was an undertaking which had no guarantee of success, but we felt that it was an undertaking which had certain exciting and novel characteristics which ought to be supported by the Government.
1 should like to pay tribute to the tremendous effort that has gone into the workers' co-operative and to the dedication of the work force, which, I may say, even in these extremely difficult times, has not been changed. There is still a very considerable dedication to make this newspaper a success.
I should declare my interest, like the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), in that I am a shareholder in the Scottish Daily News. Some hon. Members have a financial interest, but I think the main interest of Scottish Members is in the jobs aspect.
Although the Minister has painted a very gloomy picture, it was disappointing that he was not, in advance of the appointment of the liquidator, able to give any indication whether there had been any approaches which might lead to the saving of jobs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) said at the beginning of this debate that he was inclined to give general support to it. Having heard this short debate, from the Conservative benches I would strongly recommend all my hon. Friends to vote enthusiastically for this clause, because we have had some indication of the reasons—which were not advanced previously in the Industry Bill, because of the guillotine—why some Labour Members opposed it.
We heard the speech from the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire having been reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire had voted against the clause in the Industry Bill.
We also had an indication—a very clear and alarming one—from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), of his reason for opposing the clause, and I hope that those who are concerned with freedom will make a point of reading his speech. It was one of the most frightening we have heard for a long time. But we expect such speeches from him. He voted against a similar new clause in the Industry Bill.
It was probably because he was speaking with the authority of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) that the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was rather more extreme than usual. He was saying that he wanted the Government, through the Scottish Development Agency, not to move in to rescue newspapers and thereby rescue jobs. The money was not to be used for propping up capitalism. He wanted Government involvement, through the Agency, in newspapers in order to promote Socialism. That is a frightening situation. He is suggesting that instead of freedom of editorial expression, as we have now, we should have a situation in which we would have a Scottish Pravda and a Scottish Red Star and virtually nothing else.
Perhaps I can cool the hon. Gentleman's fevered brow by pointing out that I referred to subsection (2)(f) of Clause 2, relating to the promotion of industrial democracy as one of the functions of the Agency. I would include, for example, the promotion of industrial democracy on the Glasgow Herald, where a fair number of people are Conservatives. My concept of industrial democracy also includes Conservative newspapers for which the hon. Gentleman could continue to write.
That is the danger. Let us consider the subject of freedom of expression. There is no indication that where industrial democracy has any place, truth emerges more clearly. For example, people in Portugal are concerned about freedom of expression and broadcasting. The Scottish Daily News published a leading article saying that we should be inclined to support the Army in Portugal in what it was doing to preserve the revolution. That was one point of view, but it is very important that other points of view should be expressed. If we had Government control of newspapers in Scotland—Government-financed newspapers—it would be almost impossible for other newspapers to compete. Hardly a newspaper in Britain is making money, and some of them are losing substantial amounts.
The hon. Gentleman is exposing the whole weakness of his case. The greatest danger to the freedom of the Press is the fact that newspapers cannot pay unless they get substantial advertising revenue. The threat to the freedom of the Press as expressed by the hon. Gentleman is a myth, a distortion. The freedom to preserve the freedom of the capitalist system is regarded by him as being the same as freedom of the Press. But that is a distortion of the truth and the hon. Gentleman knows it.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If he will look at countries whose political regimes he might favour, he will see that there is not anything like freedom of the Press there. But in this country if one has any point of view ranging from extreme left wing through mild, mediocre or middle to extreme right wing, one can find a newspaper to reflect one's opinions. In other countries, where the Government control the Press—a situation which some hon. Members are trying to achieve by opposing new Clause 1—there is not that breadth of expression.
The hon. Gentleman has already demolished his own case. Only one popular daily newspaper in Scotland can by any stretch of the imagination be said to be Government financed, if we accept the £1·2 million lent to the Scottish Daily News as Government finance, but that fact does not seem to have disturbed its editorial freedom, because it has even allowed an extreme right winger like the hon. Gentleman to write for it.
I was delighted to write for it for a while. I think it folded up for all kinds of reasons. But that is not the kind of sponsorship that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire is suggesting. There is a difference between a rescue operation for a newspaper which it is hoped will survive as a viable concern and what the hon. Gentleman suggests in opposing new Clause 1.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that he did not want this to be a rescue operation without the Government moving in and running newspapers which would then be able to advance Socialism. That is a frightening prospect. One of the great things about freedom as we have it is the variety of opinions expressed. Readers themselves control the Press by buying those newspapers which they like and not buying those which they do not like. We should also remember that if the Government moved into such an operation and gave unlimited cash to it, there would be a danger that those newspapers which competed with the Government-financed newspapers would have to close down. In that way, we would not save jobs but we would destroy what freedom of the Press we have.
In order to preserve a variety of opinions in our newspapers—those excel-
lent newspapers, like the Express and Journal, which reflect regional problems—we support new Clause 1, give our full backing to the Government, and reject the alarming and vicious suggestion put by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who wants to have Government control of Government-subsidised newspapers reflecting only a limited degree of opinion. That would be the beginning of a slippery slope which could lead to the destruction of the freedom we have always enjoyed and which I hope we always will enjoy.
|Division No. 344.]||AYES||[5.17 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Dempsey, James||Hayman, Mrs Helene|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Doig, Peter||Healey Rt Hon Denis|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dormand, J. D.||Horam, John|
|Ashley, Jack||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm F)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Drayson, Burnaby||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Dunn, James A.||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Bain. Mrs Margaret||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Hunt, John|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Edelman, Maurice||Hunter, Adam|
|Bean, R. E.||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Hurd, Douglas|
|Beith, A. J.||Edge, Geoff||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)|
|Biffen, John||Elliott, Sir William||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Bishop, E. S.||English, Michael||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Ennals, David||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)|
|Boardman, H.||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Booth, Albert||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Janner, Greville|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jeger, Mrs Lena|
|Brotherton, Michael||Fairgrieve, Russell||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Farr, John||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Faulds, Andrew||John, Brynmor|
|Buchanan, Richard||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Budgen, Nick||Fookes, Miss Janet||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Ford, Ben||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Forrester, John||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Campbell, Ian||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Cant, R. B.||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Carlisle, Mark||Freeson, Reginald||Kelley, Richard|
|Carter, Ray||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||George, Bruce||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Cartwright, John||Gilbert, Dr John||Knight, Mrs. Jill|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Gilmour, Sir John (East File)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Ginsburg, David||Lamond, James|
|Cockcroft, John||Glyn, Dr Alan||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Goodhew, Victor||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Gould, Bryan||Lipton, Marcus|
|Conlan, Bernard||Gourlay, Harry||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Loveridge, John|
|Corbett, Robin||Graham, Ted||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Gray, Hamish||MacCormick, Iain|
|Crawford, Douglas||Grieve, Percy||McCrindle, Robert|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Grimond, Rt Hon J||McElhone, Frank|
|Cronin, John||Grocott, Bruce||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||MacFarquhar. Roderick|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hampson, Dr Keith||Maclennan, Report|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Hannam, John||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Harper, Joseph||McNamara, Kevin|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Magee, Bryan|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Deakins, Eric||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Marks, Kenneth|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hatton, Frank||Marquand, David|
|Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)||Rifkind Malcolm||Tierney, Sydney|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Tinn, James|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Tomlinson, John|
|Marten, Neil||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Tomney, Frank|
|Maude, Angus||Roderick, Caerwyn||Torney, Tom|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Rooker, J. W.||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Meacher, Michael||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Rowlands, Ted||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sandelson, Neville||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Millan, Bruce||Scott, Nicholas||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E. Kilbride)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Molloy, William||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wall, Patrick|
|Moonman, Eric||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Ward, Michael|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Watkins, David|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Watt, Hamish|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Watt, Hamish|
|Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Silverman, Julius||Weetch, Ken|
|Mudd, David||Small, William||Weitzman, David|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||White, James (Pollok)|
|Noble, Mike||Snape, Peter||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Oakes, Gordon||Spearing, Nigel||Whitlock, William|
|Ogden, Eric||Speed, Keith||Wigley, Dafydd|
|O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Spriggs, Leslie||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Orbach, Maurice||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Ovenden, John||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Padley, Walter||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Park, George||Stott, Roger||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Strang, Gavin||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Penhaligon, David||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Perry, Ernest||Tapsell, Peter||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Phipps, Dr Colin||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing. Acton)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Younger, Hon George|
|Radice, Giles||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Thompson, George||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|Reid, George||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Abse, Leo||Lee, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Allaun, Frank||Litterick, Tom||Skinner, Dennis|
|Atkinson, Norman||Loyden, Eddie||Swain, Thomas|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Luard, Evan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cryer, Bob||Madden, Max||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mikardo, Ian||Wise, Mrs. Audrey|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Newens, Stanley||Woof, Robert|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Kinnock, Neil||Rose, Paul B.||Mr. James Sillars and|
|Lambie, David||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Mr. Dennis Canavan.|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|