§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I beg to move,That this House regrets the closure of the News Chronicle and Star newspapers and the methods by which it was effected; expresses anxiety at the increasing concentration of newspapers in fewer hands; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into the Press with particular reference to the monopolistic trend and its social implications.In moving this Motion, I am very conscious of the double misfortune which has made it possible for me to do so. The House will recall that the first number out of the Ballot box was that of Anthony Wedgwood Benn. Only a few days later, Lord Stansgate died, and in him we in the Labour Party lost one of our most lovable and vigorous colleagues. His son has had to leave us, but he is a fighter, as his father was, and I trust that I carry all the House with me when I express the hope that his departure from our midst is only temporary.
The Motion is in three parts. The first deals with the death of the News Chronicle and the Star. This death has been variously described, but the verdict I would choose is, "Murder by neglect".
720 I feel a very special regret about the disappearance of the News Chronicle, although for many years I have not been a regular reader of that paper. I regret it because I can recall the glorious days of that paper. I was a regular reader in the mid and late 1930s and in those days the News Chronicle, especially under the editorship of Gerald Barry, fought consistently for progressive, libertarian and radical policies and against every kind of injustice; and it fought with courage and forthrightness which were worthy of the highest traditions of British journalism. I do not think that anyone who supported the cause of Republican Spain can look back on the News Chronicle of those days with anything but pride and gratitude.
If, during latter years, some of that lustre has rubbed off the paper, it was not due to any lack of courage or any lack of radicalism on the part of the staff of the paper. It has been due to a failure of management, to a timidity and lack of purpose at the top, and to enforced political reorientation. Those factors have permeated and discouraged and, in the end, demoralised almost the entire staff of the paper.
There have been many explanations for the failure of the News Chronicle and there is an Amendment on the Order Paper which suggests that there are hon. Members who would select the trade unions as one of the reasons for that failure. As printed, it is in line 5, to leave out from the second "to" to the end and add:restrictive practices in the printing industry.
§ Mr. Speaker
What the hon. Member has said probably makes it appropriate for me to say that none of the Amendments on the Order Paper is in order.
§ Mr. Robinson
I have no doubt, nevertheless, that that suggestion will be made, and in this connection—I do not want to deal with the trade union aspect at any length—I want to quote what was said by Mr. John Coope, the managing director of the News Chronicle, to a meeting of the editorial staff about three years ago in one of the numerous crises which the paper had to face.
Mr. Coope said that he had approached the various trade unions, particularly the mechanical unions, to 721 get their co-operation, and he told the editorial staff:I was immensely pleased at the response I got. The economies effected, though not as great as one might have hoped for, were extremely valuable. We have got the men to come together and agree to very substantial economies in various departments.That is a tribute to the trade unionists working on the News Chronicle from the managing director of the newspaper. It is one of my charges that, during the last six months or so of the newspaper, time and again the management refused to meet the trade unions who were anxious to discuss the position of the paper and to co-operate in further economies if necessary.
I believe that the News Chronicle's serious troubles, and the falling circulation of the paper in consequence, date mostly from the advent of Mr. Laurence Cadbury as chairman in 1950. To be charitable to him, one would perhaps describe him as the inheritor of a tradition, both a family and a newspaper tradition, which he never began to understand. I believe that he looked on the News Chronicle as a commodity. He seems to have had no feeling for the tradition behind it, and certainly no sympathy for the radicalism which used to be the very essence of its pages, and on which its reputation was built.
The ten years of his chairmanship make a sorry tale. He was never a newspaper man, not even in the sense that Lord Beaverbrook or Mr. Roy Thomson are newspaper men. He seems to have spent roughly one and a half days a week in the office, and yet during that time he was able somehow to blanket and inhibit the editorial staff and blunt the cutting edge of the newspaper. Painfully and gradually the political line of the paper was switched, with one brief interlude when it was militant in its opposition to the Government's policy over Suez. Its political line was switched to the point where Lord Rothermere could say, at the time of the take-over, that he saw very little difference between the attitude of the News Chronicle and that of the Daily Mail. It was during the ten years of Cadbury's chairmanship that any firm or organisation which did not have a proper pension scheme took steps to get one, yet no proper pension scheme was 722 instituted on the News Chronicle and the Star.
During that period the circulation continued to fall, and ultimately profits turned to losses. There were several changes of editor, and at least one of the editors did his best to revive the old spirit of the newspaper. He soon came into conflict with the proprietors, lost heart, and left. And so it went on, until, ultimately, we come to 17th October, no more than six or seven weeks ago, when the paper died. It was only a day or two after an official spokesman for the Daily Mail said that there was no merger or anything of the kind in contemplation that the staff of the News Chronicle and Star learned, at 5 o'clock in the evening, that the papers would not come out the following day. There had been no consultation with them. They had no prior warning at all.
The papers were sold for under £2 million, with some contingent amount in excess of that depending on the number of readers which the Daily Mail continued to hold. They were sold for something under £2 million to a group with a political bias which was totally opposed to everything for which the News Chronicle had stood. They were sold to the Rothermere Group, despite the interest that was shown by Odhams Press and the Daily Herald, despite some interest by Mr. Roy Thomson, and despite the offer made by the Australian Consolidated Press.
What Odhams Press would have offered is anybody's guess. Negotiations never reached that point, but the Australian Consolidated Press, so I understand, offered £2½ million with a guarantee that the News Chronicle would continue for a minimum of three years, and I gather that the Australian company was prepared to sink another £1 million into the paper. On any showing this Australian offer was more advantageous to the proprietors, to the staff, and to the readers of the paper. Why was it not accepted?
Here the story becomes more obscure, and there is not much evidence in the real sense of the word, but the explanation which I propose to give to the House is, I think, the only explanation which fits the known facts. It is one which I believe to be true.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the offer by Packers. Can he tell us when that offer was made, whether it was made in writing, and the precise terms of it? What he is saying strikes me as going rather further than what we have been told about it.
§ Mr. Robinson
I cannot say whether the offer was made in writing. I understand that it was made on behalf of Packers by the London editor, Mr. McNulty. I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman knows as much as I do and will express his views if he is able to catch the eye of the Chair. I do not think that it has been denied that these papers, but for the explanation that I am about to give, could have found their way into other hands than Associated Newspapers Ltd.
About four years ago, Lord Rothermere, on behalf of Associated Newspapers Ltd., made an offer for the News Chronicle and Star, an offer which, I gather, was considerably larger in terms of money than the sum for which the papers eventually went. At that time the offer was turned down by Mr. Laurence Cadbury, but either in the course of, or following, those negotiations, Mr. Laurence Cadbury gave Lord Rothermere a firm option of first refusal on the papers should they ever come into the market.
If one accepts the fact that from that moment the decks were cleared for the final sell-out, then a number of things which are otherwise obscure can be explained. It explains why no real attempt was made in the latter years to get an editor who might reverse the circulation trend of the newspapers and save them from extinction. It explains why the management showed little or no interest in the successive demarches by the staff and the successive requests on behalf of the staff to discuss the position of the paper with the management to try to show how, in their view, it could be improved and changed in character in such a way as to be once more a viable proposition. It explains why there were only desultory discussions with Odhams Press, about a possible merger with the Daily Herald, or with the Australian Consolidated Press. It also explains why the policy and political attitude of the paper became less and less discernible.
724 There is only one thing which cannot be explained in this way, and that is the participation of the Daily News Ltd. in Tyne-Tees Television. I think that it is generally accepted that it was only because of its newspaper connection that the programme contract was awarded to this group. Indeed, I think that it is highly improbable that the individuals concerned in their other capacity as chocolate manufacturers and consequently extensive advertisers on television would even be considered by the I.T.A. Yet the application for this licence must have been made, if my estimation is correct, when these men knew that they would be newspaper proprietors for not very much longer.
The situation we are discussing might be less questionable had the holding of this company—which, I gather, is estimated by the Financial Times to be worth about £650,000—been sold along with the papers and the proceeds added to the sale of the papers to swell the somewhat meagre compensation which was doled out to the staff.
§ Mr. Robinson
I understand that it was one week's pay for every one year's work on the paper after the age of 21.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Plus the very considerable sums put into the pension fund and other compensation.
§ Mr. Robinson
I accept what the hon. Member says. Those over 60, I gather, have mostly been given a pension of some kind, but I do not think that the general view is that the staff were generously treated. Whether they were or not, the assets of Tyne-Tees Television, and, indeed, a number of other properties built up by the group in association with its newspapers, could have been sold at the same time, but no, Mr. Cadbury is holding on to Tyne-Tees Television. I think that there is a case for inquiry here, if not by the Government at least by the Independent Television Authority.
That is all I want to say about the News Chronicle and Star, except to mention the valiant efforts of a number of the staff of those newspapers to establish a new daily paper—very appropriately to be called the Phoenix, out of the ashes of the old. They started by 725 attempting the seemingly impossibde, and I believe that they now have an outside chance of success. I am sure that every hon. Member would wish them all good luck in their efforts.
The second part of my Motion deals with the question of concentration of newspapers and monopoly trends. My Motion talks about the trend for concentration in fewer hands, and not only hands, but the newspapers becoming fewer. The 1949 Royal Commission on the Press stated, in paragraph 323, that it wouldconsider any further concentration of ownership undesirable.Let us look at what has happened in the ten or eleven years since that Report was published. We know about the News Chronicle and Star. The Empire News was bought by Mr. Roy Thomson not very long ago, and has been killed.
It is interesting to note that in Mr. Thomson's view a Sunday newspaper with a circulation of 2 million is not a viable proposition today. The Sunday Graphic is quite definitely on its last legs and will not last more than a few more weeks. Two other national Sunday newspapers are at least in jeopardy and I gather that the situation is not happy for one or two national dailies.
To sum up what has happened in the last five years, we have lost one national daily, two national Sunday papers, one London evening paper and eight provincial dailies. All this means a growing concentration because the death of a newspaper means that there are fewer of them and the concentration, therefore, is greater. We are today in the position of having three groups, the Beaverbrook Group, the Rothermere Group and the Mirror Group, which, between them, control nearly 75 per cent. of the national dailies in terms of circulation.
The Royal Commission also stated, in paragraph 358, that ownership of periodicals "is widely dispersed." Today, ten years late, control of virtually the entire mass-circulation weekly periodicals is shared between two groups, Odhams and the Mirror. Does the House think that is a healthy situation? If it does, I ask hon. Members to glance at the range of women's magazines which make up the bulk of this output. They will see that that hardly suggests a healthy situation.
726 I turn to the provincial newspapers. Here again, I think it equally necessary to have a vigorous, independent and competitive Press. I do not want to call the melancholy roll of provincial newspapers which have died, but we should look at what has happened since the Royal Commission reported. There is today an outright daily newspaper monopoly in thirty or forty towns and cities. In many other places there are truces, arrangements and joint controls fixed up between newspapers which are apparently in competition. Even so, there are only eighteen provincial morning newspapers left in the country and more than half of those survive only by the grace of their associated evening newspapers. There are only three cities in Britain where there are fully competing local daily newspapers, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
We have an unprecedented situation with reference to the evening papers in London. A population of nearly 10 million is served by only two newspapers, both of them Tory, two newspapers which, apparently, have come to an agreement to increase their prices by chance on the same date, next Monday. The position in London, if ever there were a case, is one for reference to the Monopolies Commission. I think that the President of the Board of Trade ought to be invited to submit this case to the Monopolies Commission.
My last quotation from the Royal Commission's Report is from paragraph 335, which refers to newspaper chains. The Commission said:There is no reason to expect that the aggressive expansion which characterised their early phase will be resumed.Mr. Roy Thomson appeared on the scene long after the Royal Commission reported. In some ways I think that this late entrant is perhaps the most alarming of all. He has already secured control of eighty-two newspapers, admittedly not all of them in this country. He is credited with the ambition to make it a hundred.
I have never seen Mr. Roy Thomson, except on the television screen. The television screen is very revealing. I must say he struck me as an attractive personality, engagingly frank and direct about his views and his intentions, but Mr. Thomson is not a young man and, 727 sooner or later, his empire will pass into other hands. Who can say what his successor will do with the aggregation of power and influence of which he will have command? Whatever confidence one may have in Mr. Thomson personally, one can have little confidence in the situation he has created.
This is the picture, and I want to know if Her Majesty's Government are at all worried about it. So far, there is no evidence at all that they are. If they are not worried, I should like to know at what point they will begin to show concern. How far has this trend to go before the Government wake up and take notice? Suppose there were only two groups which controlled mass circulation dailies? That is quite possible. Would they stand helpless before a merger of two such groups came about and there was a complete monopoly of the Press? If not, what would they do about it?
Since I have not got the right to reply to the debate, perhaps I can try to anticipate what the Minister might say. He will probably say that the Government are concerned, but will ask what can they do about it. There are indications that they will suggest that they cannot interfere with the freedom of the Press. I am not asking that the Government should interfere with the freedom of the Press in so far as that is the freedom of the Press to express whatever it wants with complete frankness and candour. But there is another aspect of the freedom of the Press, and that is one that concerns the reader—the freedom of the reader to read a newspaper of his choice, the newspaper which suits him and his political views. It is the second aspect that concerns me, and that is the one that is in jeopardy at this moment. That is why I mention social implications in my Motion.
What can the Government do? They can certainly set up an inquiry. I think that at least the case for that inquiry is made by the facts themselves. It is no good saying that we have had the Royal Commission. I hope that if I have shown nothing else, I have shown that the Royal Commission's evidence is now completely out of date. The situation has utterly changed in Fleet Street and the newspaper world during the eleven years that have elapsed since it reported.
728 What further action could the Government take beyond an inquiry? Many years ago, the United States became worried about the vast concentrations of economic power growing up there, and developed an antitrust legislation which, generally, has been fairly successful. From the point of view of democracy, I believe that concentration in this field of the provision of information is possibly the greatest danger of all, and I believe that it is not impossible, if the will were there, to frame some legislation on similar lines to protect the public from the dangers that I have described.
In conclusion, in a sentence or two, I want to try to place the situation against the wider background, because this trend in the newspaper industry is not an isolated phenomenon. The same thing is happening over other branches of commerce and industry. There is a marked concentration of power everywhere today, and I believe that this is almost inevitable in a society in which acquisitiveness seems to be regarded as almost a main virtue, and in which the take-over is somehow looked on as a symbol of enterprise. It has never been easier than it is today for the Clores, the Cottons and the Wolfsons. The bigger they get, the easier it is to have access to borrowing, and borrowing is all they need to get bigger still.
If these things went to their logical conclusion—and the only comfort that I derive is that usually things do not get to their logical conclusion—but if they did, I see no reason why every site in this country which is ripe for development should not be owned by Clore and Cotton, every department store by Hugh Fraser, or Isaac Wolfson and every newspaper by Roy Thomson. In this situation, someone has to do something about this trend at some time.
It is a profoundly dangerous and unhealthy trend. It is a situation which the Government, far from checking, have done a very great deal, through their policies in the last few years, actually to bring about. It is a situation which ought to cause anxiety on both sides of this House.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Sir Neill Cooper-Key (Hastings)
When I came here this morning, I had no intention of taking part in this debate, 729 but there were certain inaccuracies in the speech of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson). I think I should, first of all, declare my interest, as a director of Associated Newspapers, which has been referred to as the Rothermere Group.
The part of the hon. Gentleman's speech to which I should like to refer is that which dealt with the merger between the Daily Mail and the Evening News and the News Chronicle and the Star. It is inaccurate, in the modern use of the term, to refer to this merger as a take-over bid or deal. It is certainly not. If there was murder in this matter, then the Rothermere Group is not responsible for it. Its action is much more of a rescue action in this case.
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
I will come to that. If hon. Members will refer to the exchange of letters between Mr. Laurence Cadbury and Lord Rothermere, they will see in proper perspective exactly how Associated Newspapers came into this matter.
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
We were approached. At no time did we approach Mr. Laurence Cadbury or his company in regard to the purchase of these newspapers. The initiative came entirely from the News Chronicle.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House when the News Chronicle approached the Rothermere Group?
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
In the first place, there were discussions some considerable time ago, a year or two ago. I understand, about two years ago there were discussions, and we agreed to negotiate again only when it was perfectly clear that the only alternative was for these two newspapers to close down. In that case, the funds available for the staff and tie pensioners would have been practically nil, and that is why I am saying that in this particular case the Rothermere Group's action can be described as a rescue operation.
§ Mr. Robinson
Could the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether it is true that a condition of these negotiations was that Mr. Laurence Cadbury would be debarred from negotiating with any other prospective purchase?
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman amplify that? Is he saying that it is not within his personal knowledge whether or not there was agreement that no further negotiation should be entered into, or is he saying that he can give a categorical assurance that there was no such restriction placed on Mr. Cadbury?
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
I can give that assurance.
Mention has been made of other groups and parties which were stated to have been prepared to buy these two papers. I must say to my hon. Friend who asked earlier that I have not seen any concrete evidence of that fact. Sums of money between £1 million and £2 million, and even £2½ million, have been mentioned, but these figures are entirely unrealistic today. To put the News Chronicle on its feet, it has been calculated, would take about two years. To put it into a condition to face its competitors in the same field would take about two years and would cost £4 million. In support of that calculation it has been mentioned quite recently that, in the case of the Daily Herald, that company intends to spend considerably over £5 million in the next few years in an attempt to recover the circulation which the paper was formerly losing at just about the same rate as the News Chronicle was losing when it closed down.
There is another quite small point that I should like to correct. The hon. 731 Gentleman said that on the Sunday preceding the closing down, an official spokesman of the Daily Mail denied that any negotiations were in hand. The fact is that neither the chairman, managing director nor any director of that company ever made the statement or authorised the statement. It was made in perfectly good faith by a comparatively junior staff manager who was not aware that these negotiations were taking place at the time. I believe that when the story of this merger is examined objectively, it will be seen that the principals concerned, Lord Rothermere and Mr. Cadbury, have shown the highest regard for the traditions of Fleet Street and the greatest integrity.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I should like, first, to offer my apologies to the House, as I shall have to leave before the end of the debate to fulfil an engagement in my constituency this evening. I hope that the House will forgive me for this, but, as hon. Members will know, many of my colleagues in the newspaper and printing industry have a very great interest in the debate, and I have come purposely from Bristol to say a word or two on their behalf.
One thing of which I am quite certain is that it is not only those people engaged in the newspaper industry who are concerned about the way events are shaping in it. Their concern is now very widely shared by members of the general public who, week by week, are seeing their favourite newspapers disappearing from the bookstalls. To this House, in particular, this must be a source of great concern, because, as I said once before in this Chamber—and it may have sounded a little exaggerated at the time—if this trend continues it is bound eventually to lead us to what is virtually a Press dictatorship—
§ Mr. Wilkins
I do not think that there are any hon. Members on either side who would view such a happening with equanimity, or think it in the country's interest that, in the finality, people's views should be formulated by a biased Press. We therefore start to look at the problem from that point of view.
732 I was very interested to hear the hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) say that when he came to the House this morning he had no intention of speaking. My researches informed me that he is a director of Associated Newspapers and, I would say, not exactly without an interest in what is happening in this connection—
§ Mr. Wilkins
Oh, yes. He did state his interest.
On behalf of the largest single craft union in the printing industry—the Typographical Association—and on behalf of the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, which represents all the unions associated with that industry, I have to say that we are not averse to the suggested inquiry. Our concern is that if the Government agree to such an inquiry its attention shall be directed to the real causes of the trouble.
I do not think that hon. Members would attempt to deny that when an industry finds itself in trouble or any distress there is a tendency to look for reasons to show that the workers have contributed to the difficulties. Apparently, it is always the workers who are at fault. For instance, the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. Johnson), which you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled out of order, speaks of restrictive practices. The hon. Member had his answer to that point from the Minister of Labour not long ago, and the inference in his Amendment cannot be substantiated.
I doubt whether there is another trade union in the country that has had happier and friendlier relations with its employers than that of which I speak. It has been in existence for about 110 years, and in all that time we have had only two official strikes. If there is any other industry with a record like that, I would certainly like to know of it—
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the proposition that the particular Amendment is out of order means that this particular topic is correspondingly out of order, so I hope that he will get back to the Motion.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate what you have said. I wondered just how far I could go before 733 you called me to order, but it was, perhaps, worth trying to say a word about this very thorny subject.
I hope that hon. Members will not pursue such an allegation. It is not true. The Newspaper Proprietors Association, which would be principally involved is, at this very moment, making the necessary arrangements for discussions along the lines I have tried to indicate. Nor has there ever been any reluctance on the part of the trade unions to meet the employers; in fact, we would welcome far more opportunities—
§ Mr. Speaker
I really cannot indulge the hon. Member further, because then I would commit myself to allowing others to commit the same "outrages".
§ Mr. Wilkins
Then I shall direct my remarks more closely to the Motion, Sir, and refer to the need for an inquiry. As I said a moment ago, I hope that if the Government agree to this course they will make the terms of reference sufficiently wide to enable the inquiry to investigate the real causes of trouble. Newspapers die, and the reason for their death is that they have been economically unsound and have failed to pay their way. If a newspaper fails to pay its way today, the reason is not necessarily that it does not have public appeal. The Sunday newspaper that disapeared only a few weeks ago had a circulation of 2 million, and I believe that the News Chronicle had a circulation of over 1 million. Those are substantial circulations.
We therefore have to look for another cause for demise, and I suggest that one of the major points with which an inquiry should concern itself is the placing of advertising. Everyone in this industry knows that its lifeblood is its advertising revenue. As the Daily Herald said in its leading article on the morning following the closure of the News Chronicle, the stronger the newspaper the more advertising it obtains, so it goes from strength to strength, but the weaker a newspaper is in circulation the smaller is its advertising revenue. It is then doomed to disaster and, as in the case of the News Chronicle, to final closure. I therefore appeal to the Government, if they find themselves able to set up an inquiry, to see that it directs its attention closely to the placing of advertising.
734 I am one of those who believe that most of these newspapers are dying because the Government introduced a Bill which enabled independent television to operate in this country and that the money which used to go in advertising revenue to the newspapers is now being diverted by the advertising contractors into television advertising.
There is a second point that I should like the Government to bear in mind. This is an extremely important factor in the newspaper industry; indeed, I believe that the proprietors of the newspapers will agree with me on this. We should have some investigation into the newsprint industry itself. The cost of newsprint has rocketed from £10 a ton to over £60 a ton These are the matters into which we ought to inquire, and not into labour relations which, I claim, have been very good.
I hope that the House will agree to these suggestions. I hope that hon. Members will agree to the Motion and will instruct the Government, through that Motion, to have an inquiry into the newsprint industry. I hope also, that the Government will ensure that that inquiry is directed to the relevant factors of the closures of these newspapers, and is not sidetracked, as some people would like, into channels where there is little or no responsibility.
I can give this assurance. The industry which I have the privilege to represent would always welcome every possible opportunity to have an inquiry. We are deeply concerned about these closures. If the trend continues, it will affect the livelihood of about 100,000 men and women in this country, and, therefore, we are deeply concerned about these closures. We would welcome every possible opportunity to talk to the Newspaper Proprietors' Association on the matter and to make what contribution lies within our power to secure that no further closures take place.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
No one would grudge the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) his remarkable success in these Ballots because there is no doubt that he chooses very interesting subjects and puts his case with charm and moderation which are difficult to fault.
735 The hon. Member referred us, quite rightly, to the Royal Commission of eleven years ago. He has called attention to the danger that the Commission saw in the growing concentration of newspaper power. Two things have happened since then. First and most important is the growth of independent television, or rather television as a whole and independent television in particular.
For my part, I do not regard the danger of newspaper monopoly or, indeed, the perils of newspaper monopoly as seriously as they would have been regarded eleven years ago when there was not the same alternative means of expression. Indeed, in the United States it is now regarded as correct, just for this reason, that broadcasting stations should be encouraged to "editorialise," as they call it. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has stated only this year that in his view the closure of local newspapers, which is going on in that country as much as it is here, is an inevitable economic trend with the growth of television and that it therefore behoves the television stations to express views of their own. They are encouraged to editorialise, provided that they label those comments and programmes as editorials.
Therefore, there is not quite the same danger as there was eleven years ago. Nobody likes the concentration, but it is not as dangerous as it was then, because there is the alternative means of expression, and the alternative method of other views being put to the public.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Would the hon. Gentleman consider the following proposition? This may be true in America where editorial comment is allowed, but in this country it is vetoed by the terms of the Charter of the B.B.C. and of the Independent Television Authority. There is no expression of editorial views as such on any network.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I was suggesting that if the concentration of Press power continues it might be necessary to look again at that veto.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
In view of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about television as an alternative means of expression, would he agree that it is undesirable that newspaper groups should have direct financial interests in commercial television?
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I do not think it is undesirable that they should have some influence. It would be most undesirable if they had all the influence, because one would get a concentration again.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman also agree that it follows that, just as the Government have accepted responsibility for ensuring conditions for free and fair broadcasting, they should accept responsibility for ensuring the conditions for a free and fair Press?
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
That is a very attractive parallel, but I do not think it quite stands up. The television stations are under licence because, owing to the mechanism of the industry, they have a franchise with a monopoly value. Therefore, they are obliged to be under a greater degree of control than the printed sheet which is available for anybody, if they can afford it, to distribute.
For that reason, it seems to me that the two industries are not altogether in a parallel position, although they both have public duties and they impinge and compete on the same market. But because they impinge and compete on the same market it does not seem to me that there is the same danger as there was in 1949. The fact seems to irritate some hon. Members, but there is not the same danger from Press concentration as there was in 1949.
I instance as evidence of that fact that the chairman of the American Federal Communications Commission, for this very reason, encourages the television companies in the United States to editorialise. I am not sure that we ought not to consider that ourselves if the concentration of the Press continues in the ordinary course of events.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The second thing that happened since 1949, was mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, and that was the advent of Mr. Roy Thomson. I do not think the hon. Member would deny that it is very remarkable and refreshing to have a Press magnate consciously and deliberately encouraging his different newspapers to take up different political standpoints according to the views of the different papers 737 and the local conditions. That is surely a sign of grace and we should recognise it as such, because it is quite a new and favourable development.
The hon. Member deplored what I think he called the disappearance of a great deal of the radical Press from London and the country as a whole. I should like to pursue—I hope I shall not be out of order—exactly why we are being deprived of this radical Press and why this concentration has occurred.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) mentioned the failure of advertising and the price of newsprint. Surely it is perfectly legitimate to touch, though no more than touch, upon some other possible reasons which might be inquired into. One of the reasons that London particularly is effectively deprived of some radical thought with its morning breakfast is the difficulties that the Guardian experiences in getting proper distribution and printing in the south of England.
I should like to quote the reasons given by Mr. Laurence Scott, chairman of the Manchester Guardian and Evening News Ltd., who had an article in his newspaper on 17th September, 1957. Mr. Scott said they were trying to print in London and thatthe firm had made tests with electrical processes for relaying photographs of pages set up on machines in Manchester and that the copies produced had been almost indistinguishable from those printed in Manchester. This process, however, would have employed far fewer men than were normally taken to produce the same number of copies by traditional processes. Certain union leaders who were consulted had said that they could not answer for the attitude of their members and the scheme had therefore to be scrapped.This concerns the facsimile printing process which has had great success since then in Japan and is undoubtedly a great modern invention. But if we are grumbling, as the hon. Member was, about the absence of radical thought, comment and news, and wondering why that is, surely a relevant fact to consider is that there was this strong objection by the trade unions to the institution of this new process.
Whether we agree with it or not, everybody would like a later and better edition of the Guardian to be available in London than we can get now. But the Guardian itself tells us that the reason is that the facsimile printing process, a perfectly 738 good modern invention which has achieved success in other countries, is not permitted here because the unions object. The hon. Member for Bristol, South, who I know is concerned in this trade, said that it has nothing to do with the unions. Yet in spite of the fact that the price of the production of the newspaper is so high, we find that attempts to lower the price of production by modern methods are not permitted.
The hon. Member will recall that we had a debate on this subject in which he and I took part, and also Mr. Alfred Robens, on 9th July last year, at the time of the printing dispute. At that time, there were twenty-two "protective practices", as Mr. Robens called them, in dispute on the matter of the printing strike. The Birkett inquiry, which, I think, brought the two sides together and eventually ended that dispute, proclaimed a large series of points on these protective practices on which the unions and employers were to meet and have discussions. I want to ask, because no one I have inquired of is prepared to say, what has happened in concrete terms on these twenty-two protective practices.
I am informed that the price, for example—and this discussion today is all about the cost and price of producing newspapers—has, in fact, in respect of labour costs, gone up considerably since then, largely due to reasons of this sort. In the publishing department, where the current situation compared with that previously is one of smaller parcels being handled by larger numbers of staff, it was hoped that mechanical handling would compensate for this loss of productivity, but the practice lasted only four years, and resulted in the economic value of mechanical publishing being virtually frittered away. The union concerned has rigidly stuck to the principle that staffs must be reduced only by natural attrition.
I am not myself connected with the newspaper industry, but I have been concerned during the last nine years that I have been in this House with the efficiency of labour production. In the last two or three years there have been great efforts—and I give this point to the hon. Member for Bristol, South—by the unions, particularly the union leaders, the newspaper proprietors and others concerned with print, to talk about these 739 things. But if it is true that more and more people are still being employed, in spite of the mechanical inventions and new machines, and that a lot of people are simply sitting about in idleness—this is what is said—because the unions insist on the same number of people working as previously worked even after a new machine has been brought in, all I can say is that it is no wonder that the cost of newspaper production goes up and up and that newspapers which are not as big and rich as others go to the wall.
These things are not often said by the newspaper proprietors for the reasons to be found in one of the reports relating to a printing dispute. I quote from the report of one of the five courts of inquiry set up into printing matters. There have been five such courts since the war. That court, which was under the chairmanship of Mr. Guillebaud, in 1953 reported as follows:The industrial action by workpeople in the newspaper industry may have considerably graver effects on the newspaper concerned than would similar action in, say, a manufacturing establishment".The reason he gives is that a strike in the newspaper industry means that the newspaper proprietors can never catch up; it is to them a dead loss, whereas a manufacturing industry can often mitigate its loss. I, and I believe others, think that the newspaper proprietors and others concerned with printing have always been rather cowardly in bringing these matters to the attention of the public, because they are too frightened that, if they say something that the unions do not like, the consequences to them will be more serious than they would be in other industry. These matters are often kept behind a curtain and never brought out to the light of day. One reason is that the only way in which a newspaper can bring it out into the light of day is by printing it, and that is where they get up against the very strong feelings in the craft unions. That is another reason why the spread of broadcasting in television is, in my view, to be welcomed because it is an alternative method of reaching the public and letting them know about these matters.
You, Mr. Speaker, have been most indulgent with me, and I am grateful. I do not want to go further into this 740 matter, although I have plenty of material, because it is enough, I think, to make the point that if there is to be an inquiry, then obviously this point must be examined as closely as the cost of newsprint and the advertising question. It would be quite absurd, for example, to go into the question of advertising revenue and at the same time not go into such questions as the fact—and I am informed on very good authority that it is a fact—that the unions insist on charging for the setting up of an advertisement even though they do not set it up at all because it has been brought in from outside.
I do not speak for my hon. Friends in this matter, perhaps, for I am not averse to an inquiry. I do not think that there is anything which needs to be hidden here. Indeed, I was much impressed by the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) when challenged about what went on with the News Chronicle. No one could say that he was evasive. I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House were surprised, and some were delighted, at the complete assurances which he gave and which allayed many suspicions which many people had held in different parts of the House.
I therefore do not believe that the concentration of newspaper power which is undoubtedly going on is quite as grave as it might have been thought in 1949, for the reasons given. Nevertheless, nobody tikes it; nobody likes the thought that it is so expensive to run a newspaper as it is today. If the costs of producing a newspaper can be reduced in any way, and I believe they can, whether it be that the trouble lies in trade union protective practices, the cost of newsprint or something wrong with the advertising revenue, I should welcome it. I think that this debate will have done nothing but good, even if there is no inquiry, because the cause of these problems will be better known to the public and, for that reason, what is wrong is more likely to be put right.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson). Not for the first time, he has placed the 741 House and the country in his debt by raising a matter of very great public importance and by raising it in a manner in which he has shown a width of vision and a sense of public spirit. I most warmly congratulate him on what he has done this morning.
First, I must declare an interest; I am a working journalist and to some extent I am trying to keep my job. But we are discussing not only an industry, but something which is of wider public importance—far wider than that of a particular industry producing a particular product. The newspaper industry of this country is very closely associated with the spirit and tradition of British democracy. A Parliamentary democracy such as this would not survive for a minute if we did not have a virile, free, vital Press in this country. We are considering not just the production problems and the difficulties and changes of a specific industry; we are discussing the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I said a free Press. That is exactly my point. It is the Fourth Estate of the Realm, and much that we value in this country will suffer and wither if we cannot create anew each day and always maintain a sound basis for a free Press in this country.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) started from a quite different point than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), but such is the success of our democracy that he arrived at the same destination—that we want an inquiry. I hope that we shall see him in the Division Lobby, should it be necessary at the end of the discussion to support the Motion in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North began by referring to the News Chronicle. I should like to associate myself with the regret which he expressed at the death of that newspaper. It died, as he said, partly from bad management. It had a particularly grim record in the making of proper provision for those people who had worked for it over a long period. I am sorry to say that I entirely agree with my hon. 742 Friend that the proprietors of this newspaper surrendered an honourable trust with ignominy and with public statements which appeared to be total humbug.
Having said that about the News Chronicle and those chocolate soldiers of democracy, its proprietors, there are, nevertheless, practical problems associated with the death of the News Chronicle which affect all newspapers in this country. I should like, briefly, to examine those practical problems and to point the moral, in their relationship to the Motion and the specific responsibility of the House.
Is it true, as Lord Rothermere said, that mounting costs come into it? The hon. and learned Member for Darwen made a reference to it, as did Mr. Laurence Cadbury when he said that mounting costs had involved Daily News Limited in losses. Taking the Daily News Limited as an example of the wider problems which affect all newspapers, it is true that the cost of newsprint has gone up; it is now £58 10s. a ton compared with £10 a ton before the war. It is true, as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen said, that wages have gone up; on a rough average they have risen by about 5 per cent. per annum over the last twelve or thirteen years. All this is a heavy burden for all newspapers.
It is true, too, that the cost of meeting the contents of the newspapers has increased. It is interesting to speculate what the advent of the aeroplane has meant for newspapers in production costs. The Daily Express, which is one of the very few newspapers which publishes its full breakdown of costs, spent £356,000 last year on maintaining a foreign news service. All these are important problems for the industry, and I underline that the price of newspapers has not kept pace with the mounting costs of production. If we examine it as the sale of a commodity in relation to its production costs, the price which we pay for our newspapers is uneconomic. In short, we are getting our newspapers on the cheap.
As the hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) remarked, all these mounting costs place a premium on the large newspaper group, whether it is the so-called Rothermere Group or the Odhams Group. It means that the large newspaper group which can afford to 743 pump money into a newspaper when costs are rising, to try to keep pace by increasing the circulation, and which can invest capital in a newspaper, has certain and considerable advantages over the small group or single newspaper. This is part of the practical problem. It also places a premium on success and a penalty on failure; and this is where the circulation problem arises
To take another aspect of the same point, if one looks at the circulations of newspapers today, it is broadly true to say that, although some newspapers have died, the British nation as a whole is not buying fewer newspapers. What has been happening is that the circulations have been concentrated more and more into certain specific sections of the newspaper industry.
This has led to the third aspect of the equation of the economics of the industry, which is germane to the future of the Press. This is the point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South—the advertising factor. Anybody who advertises in a newspaper has, broadly, two alternatives. Either he can aim to reach a limited readership which he particularly wishes to contact, in which case he goes for a certain quality of newspaper; or, alternatively, he can go for a readership which is so broad that he can reach in the most economical way those sections of the mass market in which he is interested. Those are the two alternatives which face anybody placing an advertising order with a national newspaper.
It is very interesting to compare where the News Chronicle stood in this question of advertising and what relevance this has to the death of that newspaper, because we must learn from this misfortune if we are looking at the future of all other newspapers. In the Financial Times there was an interesting breakdown of the cost of reaching 1,000 adult readers in any mass newspaper. The cost per 1,000 gives some idea of the practical problem. The cost per 1,000 adult readers per single column inch was given in the Financial Times as follows: News Chronicle, .78d.; Daily Mail, .71d.; Daily Express, .61d.; Daily Sketch, .53d.; Daily Mirror, .49d.; and Daily Herald, since it cut its advertising rates, .48d.
In other words, the cost of advertising in the News Chronicle was getting on for 744 double that of advertising in any other mass circulation newspaper with a comparable grade of readership. This shows that the future of newspapers is closely related to and dependent upon the advertising industry.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
I am most interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He has drawn attention to the increasing costs in the industry—increasing wage bills and the increased cost of newsprint. Would he relate the increasing cost of advertising to the advertiser in adding up this bill of increasing cost of producing newspapers which he has partly done by these interesting figures?
§ Mr. Donnelly
I should need an electronic brain to translate my figures into what the hon. Member wants. I agree that the cost of advertisements is very high. However, the point that I was making was that an advertiser got half-value for his money if he advertised in the News Chronicle compared with other newspapers. I am not arguing about its bad management, although I could. That is not part of my case at the moment. I am saying that it died partly because its advertising value was less than that of any other comparable newspaper.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I am interested in my hon. Friend's figures. However, they do not tally with the figures published on 9th November in the Guardian, which gave the cost of a single column inch in the News Chronicle as 2.68 pence. Can my hon. Friend say from where he obtained his statistics? The relationship is the same, but the figures are different.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I said that I obtained them from the Financial Times of 19th October. It is the cost per 1,000 adult readers. The difference between my figures and those of my hon. Friend is the cost per 1,000 adult circulation and per 1,000 readers. Often circulation is a different thing from readership. I am hazarding a guess because I have not seen what was said in the Guardian.
The future of newspapers is closely tied up with the whole question of the patronage and the business of advertising. The question which I think that the House has to address itself to is: is this a desirable development? Is it 745 desirable for the maintenance of a free Press or of any kind of Press which has any semblance of being free? I take the view that our Press is pretty free. It compares favourably in freedom of expression with the Press of any other country. I do not know of any other country which has a freer Press than we have. At the same time, I agree that there are certain difficulties and problems.
§ Mr. Donnelly
It moves towards being free. My hon. Frend would not say that Pravda was free, nor that some of the newspapers on the Continent of Europe had a greater sense of responsibility.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I am not disputing that. But I add that some of the great newspapers of America have a great sense of objectivity.
What I am asking is whether it is desirable that the fate of the Press should be in the hands of the advertising industry. I do not wish to be diverted from that point. Is it desirable that these splendid gentlemen, whom one can see, with their clove carnations and chalk stripe suits, any day if one wishes to lunch at the Mirabelle, should be the custodians of British freedom of speech by the written word? Is it right that any Government should go on allowing this situation to develop? I say to the House and to the Minister of State that it is unhealthy. It smacks of decadence. That alone is sufficient to justify an inquiry. Unless we have an inquiry into this industry while it is still reasonably free, then there may come a time when it will not be possible for us to have an inquiry because the means to arouse public opinion will not be there.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
I begin by declaring my own interest in this matter. I am a journalist and make my living by selling my labour-power to newspaper proprietors. I therefore have a vested interest in seeing that there are as many newspapers as possible to provide a market for myself and for persons like me. Like the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), I 746 deeply deplore both the death of the News Chronicle and the increasing trend towards monopoly. I do not propose to carry out any sort of autopsy on the death of the News Chronicle nor to engage in any sort of attack on Mr. Cadbury, whom I have never met. I see that he keeps on being attacked, and it seems to me very hard that a man who has lost all his money should be attacked because he was not prepared to go on losing still more money. However, I think that the death of the News Chronicle is merely a symptom, as the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North rightly said, of an increasing tendency.
The question to which I want to address myself is: what practical steps, if any, can we take to provide a diversified Press? The first point to start from is that the newspaper is a commercial product. It is a product sold to the consumer at a price far below the cost of producing it. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) say that the only part of the cost of a newspaper which has not gone up enormously is the cost of buying it. The reader is still getting it very much on the cheap. The result is that Fleet Street is still a cut-price emporium, and every day is a bargain day. [AN HON. MEMBER: "It is too cheap."] I endorse that, and I will come back to the effect of it presently.
The basic fact is that newspapers are produced and supplied to the customer at a price far below the costs of production. I will not be drawn into an argument about those costs: about whether the wages bill of a newspaper is too high because of restrictive practices or whether it is the newsprint bill, which is also very high, that is the guilty reason, After all, these are the two main elements in the cost of a newspaper—wages and salaries and the cost of newsprint. It may well be that the wages bill has been inflated by restrictive practices, although, from my own experience of newspapers, I must say that I have always found it awfully difficult to believe that the restrictive practices, which admittedly exist, are so enormous that they make a conclusive and complete difference to whether a newspaper lives or dies. They make a difference—of course they do—but I very much doubt whether they are the cardinal reason.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I am interested in this point. If there are restrictive practices in operation, they have been there for the last 50 years. No one has ever said a word about them before. There have been many opportunities to alter them by negotiation. If men are employed, as they are in London, on the piecework system there are bound to be anomalies.
§ Mr. Curran
I quite agree. There are restrictive practices. What I am not satisfied about is whether it is the restrictive practices which are the primary reason why newspapers die. From my own experience, I doubt it. I do not propose to discuss, therefore, whether it is the trade unions in the industry which are primarily to blame. I do not believe they are. Nor do I propose to argue whether the primary reason is the rise in the cost of newsprint. No doubt that is almost equally important.
It is true, as the hon. Member far Pembroke said, that the price of newsprint has risen almost six times compared with before the war. I cannot see any particular reason for thinking that it will get Cheaper. After all, one byproduct of the extension of civilisation in Africa will be and already is an increasing demand for newsprint. The evidence seems to be that the demand for newsprint, so far from shrinking, will increase. We have, therefore, the fact that there seems to be no particular reason for thinking that either of the two main forces that control the cost of production of the newspaper will diminish in burden.
The problem that newspapers cost more and more to produce, and that it is harder and harder to make a profit unless one makes a big profit, is not peculiar to this country. It is something which goes with a prosperous society and it is just as much a fact on the other side of the Atlantic as it is here. When anybody wants to know what England will be like tomorrow, the simplest way is often to see what America is like today. One gets a preview all the time across the Atlantic.
The telescoping process—rising costs making newspapers fewer—is a process which has gone even further in America than it has done here. Of every four morning and evening newspapers in America, three have no direct competition. 748 It is possible to go to one American city after another, right across the Continent, and find that there is no newspaper competition of any kind in the city. The forces making for monopoly are at work in the American society just as much as they are here.
The question is whether we can turn back the clock and stop this continual pressure which leads towards a greater and greater concentration of newspaper ownership. There are two possible ways in which it might be done. One is to bring down radically the price of labour in the newspaper industry, because, undoubtedly, the price of labour has risen immensely. It has risen not only for printers and for printing workers, but it has risen just as much, I am glad to say, for journalists.
We are talking about, among other things, the death of the Star. The history of the Star illustrates vividly how the price of journalists has mounted. When the Star was founded back in 1888, the first editor, Mr. T. P. O'Connor, who was a Member of this House, started by engaging a leader writer. The leader writer whom he engaged was Mr. Bernard Shaw, a young man who was hired to write the leaders in the Star and who was paid £2 10s. a week for it. For £2 10s. a week, he undertook to provide the Star with six leaders a week—a rate of 8s. 4½d. a day.
After Shaw had been writing the leaders for three weeks, he resigned. He lasted on the Star about as long as Dickens lasted on the Daily News. The reason he resigned was that the editor kept passing on to him criticisms that he was receiving from Liberal leaders, particularly John Morley, about the Socialist nature of Shaw's leaders. Shaw got tired of the criticism and resigned.
The Star did not want him to go and so the editor invited Shaw to stop writing leaders for £2 10s. a week and to take on the job of music critic at £2 2s. a week, a reduction of 8s. Shaw accepted the offer, took on the job and worked for three years as the music critic of the Star. He left because somebody else offered hum £5 5s. a week to cover theatres for a weekly paper.
When Shaw left the Star, he wrote to the assistant editor and said that for the previous eleven months he had not put in 749 any expenses and he wished now to put them in and hoped that the Star would pay them forthwith. The expenses which he said he had incurred as the Star music critic in eleven months added up to £7 0s. 1d. I am sure that none of the journalists here will have any difficulty in agreeing with me that things are very different now. One cannot get leader writers now for 8s. 4½d. a day. Journalists cannot be employed at that sort of level.
The processes of telescoping and concentration have been at work in London, not only recently, but over the whole century. If one goes back sixty years to the time when Shaw was in Fleet Street, London had no fewer than nine evening papers. Those nine came down to six by the time of the 1914 war. Forty years ago, there were still six flourishing evening papers. During the last forty years, we have seen the processes that have been at work throughout the century reducing the number further, until now we are down to two. It is easy to see why advertisers prefer this state of affairs. The question, of course, is whether the public prefers it.
Let me address myself to the practical question of what could be done by means of a Government inquiry. I have no particular objection to an inquiry. It seems to me, not that an inquiry would be wrong, but that it would get us nowhere. It would not tell us anything that we do not know already and it cannot find any remedies that are not there to be looked at without holding an inquiry.
If we consider the two possible courses of bringing down the costs of newspaper production, one of them is to slash the wages in the industry. I shall not advocate that; I do not suppose that anybody would. It is possible that we could bring down the cost of production if we brought down the price of newsprint. I do not know whether anybody is prepared to do that, but it would at least be theoretically possible for the Government to say that they would put newsprint on the market in this country, not at £60 per ton, but, perhaps, at £30, £20 or £10 per ton, for newspapers which could not afford to carry on unless they got it.
On the face of it, that is plausible, but the moment one looks at it one sees 750 that it could not be done. How on earth could the Government distribute cut-price newsprint to newspapers that were hard up? Is it practicable to urge that newsprint prices should be brought down for newspapers that are in difficulties? There is no way of doing it. It is not practicable to urge that newsprint be made selectively cheaper for newspapers that are in difficulties and not cheaper for newspapers which are not. I do not believe that it is possible to do anything effective by means of Government intervention about the price of newsprint.
If we want a diversified Press, we cannot get it by means of Government action. We cannot get it by means of Government intervention. If the British public wanes a diversified Press, it must be prepared to pay for it. It must express that want, not through speeches, not through Government inquiries, but by means of the price mechanism. It must stop expecting to get its papers on the cheap. For so long as people continue to suppose that newspapers can be supplied to them far below the cost of production, the processes of monopoly will continue and the impossibility of running a newspaper, except on a high-cost basis, will continue to be demonstrated all over the land. Every newspaper is free to put up its price if it likes. I very much wish that the News Chronicle had made the experiment and I hope that the next newspaper that gets into difficulties will invite its readers to pay more for it before it goes down.
The hon. Member for Pembroke said, and I emphasise, that the cost of buying a newspaper has never risen in anything like the proportion of all the other costs. When the popular Press began sixty years ago, the price of a paper was a halfpenny. It went up to 1d. only after the 1914 war. It is only in the last decade or so that we have seen the price of newspapers going up to 2½d. and now 3d.
When we look overseas we observe that the public in other countries is prepared to pay far more than that. There is no capital in Europe where the newspapers are sold as cheaply as they are sold in London. In Paris, in Western Germany, in Italy people are prepared to pay 4d. and 5d. a copy. Across the Atlantic, in New York City, the mass-circulation newspapers charge up to 8d. 751 a copy, and the New York Times Sunday edition costs the equivalent of 2s. a copy.
§ Mr. Curran
One cannot lift it, as the hon. Gentleman says, but at least one can buy it.
Our ideas in this country about the price of newspapers have got to be radically revised. We cannot go on any longer expecting newspapers to be supplied below the cost of production. I do not know whether the British public is prepared to pay more for its newspapers. Certainly past evidence suggests that it is not, for people are so conditioned to buying them on the cheap that they resist any suggestion that they should pay more, and they resist by withdrawing their support from a newspaper which charges more.
Every price increase in the 'fifties has been followed by a certain fall in sales of newspapers. The News Chronicle might, perhaps, have charged more. Mr. Cadbury might well plead in reply to me that if he had put up the price of the paper that would have accelerated a fall in its sales, but the supporters of the News Chronicle cannot have it both ways. If they thought that it was a newspaper which was worth preserving, if they thought that that kind of journalism was worth having, then they should have been prepared to pay for it.
People must be prepared to pay a price that will enable a paper to live in a competitive world. It is no good supposing that somebody else can do the job for them. They have got to do it for themselves. Once the price of newspapers rises, once people are prepared to pay more than they are paying now for newspapers, it will then be possible, and only then, to halt the continuous trend towards monopoly, because this does turn basically on that. If people insist on having papers on the cheap there will be fewer and fewer papers to choose from.
We may possibly get some relief—although this is a point which I am not competent to discuss—by some sort of technological break-through. It may be that the technicians can provide us with new and cheaper methods of producing newspapers. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has referred to one such 752 way of doing this. Unless that happens and until that happens the only effective method of stopping the trend towards monopoly is for the public to be prepared to pay a higher price for the newspapers it wants. Unless it does that we are going to see this trend continue, and all the speeches in the world and all the protests in the world will not make one scrap of difference to it.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I am glad I am able to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), because he knows what he is talking about. He is an experienced newspaperman. I think that if we were to paraphrase Sir William Harcourt we might say that we are all of us today either newspaper directors or newspapermen of one sort or another, or so it seems from this debate.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on only two points. It seemed to me that he was saying that journalists were getting too much money. I would point out to him that the increase in the N.U.J. basic rate for journalists is today 128 per cent. up on what it was in 1939, and that is not a considerable increase compared with the fact that almost all workers have got at least a 200 per cent. increase—not to mention Members of this House, who have had an increase of 200 per cent. since 1939.
§ Mr. Curran
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in giving way to me. I do not want him to have the impression, I hasten to tell him, that I was making any suggestion that journalists are paid too much. I was saying only that we have to remember that in the cost structure of the newspapers the cost of paying the contributors and the writers has gone up just as well as the cost of paying the printers.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Yes, and may I say, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, that I have found in my experience as a newspaperman, an executive and director over many, many years, that much the greater problem is the cost of newsprint and distribution, compared with the cost of the editorial and other salaries.
The other thing I wanted to put to the hon. Gentleman was this. When he talks about restrictive practices and brings this into the argument—for he 753 talked about newsprint—I wish that he and his friends in the newspaper business—I am no longer in it, except that I have a directorship in the New Statesman—would pay attention to the restrictive practices indulged in by the newsprint producers not only in this country, but in America and Canada, who have restrictive practices in maintaining prices in a quite disgraceful fashion. I have always been unable to understand why the newspaper industry has not tackled this most threatening attitude which is adopted by the newsprint manufacturers.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge showed his knowledge of the industry, just as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) showed his complete ignorance of the industry. He confessed that he had no connection with the business, and his speech was an illustration of that. I would say to him this. I have myself seen men sitting in idleness in newspaper offices. That was—and is—because newspapers are staffed for maximum production in very short periods of time. Consider an evening newspaper, for instance. The big run on an evening paper is, perhaps, forty minutes in the whole day. The rest of the time the run is slow and men are not being fully employed.
That is not their fault. It is because the proprietors say that that is the way they want to run their business. They want a superfluity of labour during most of the day so that they can use it just at the time they want to. So the inexpert viewer goes round the newspaper office and says, "What are all those fellows doing sitting around?" They are sitting around because the boss tells them to sit around. To blame them for that and say that those are the men who contribute to the downfall of the newspapers is unjust, unfair, and failing to recognise that newspaper proprietors themselves, by their determination to extend the scope of their circulations as widely as they possibly can, put this strain on the mechanical resources at peak periods and have made this expansion of their areas of distribution wholly and totally uneconomic.
If the hon. and learned Member for Darwen had any knowledge of the newspaper business he would also know that what are called protective practices have 754 been encouraged by newspaper proprietors. My friend George Isaacs was general secretary to N.A.T.S.O.P.A. and whenever he wanted to negotiate more wages for them he went first to Lord Northcliffe, and Lord Northcliffe would say to him, "George, I do not want to know how much you are asking me to pay. I want to know how much you are asking my competitors to pay."
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I quite agree with what the hon. Member has said, but one of the troubles is that the rich and powerful newspaper owners can absorb them because they are rich and powerful, and they hit the poor, struggling newspapers which cannot absorb them.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Why not, then, blame the rich and powerful newspaper proprietors? Why blame the workers, the men in the industry who are only performing their proper functions?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) for having introduced this subject, because it gives some of us who are connected, or have been connected, with newspapers an opportunity of saying what we are unable to say in the public prints for one reason or another. What we are doing today, really, is discussing the freedom of the Press.
I do not mean by that the freedom of the proprietor, if he is a rich man, to express his idiosyncratic views in the editorial policies of the paper. That is not freedom of the Press. Nor is it the freedom of the Press that a man should have the capacity to sell for advertising as much space as he wants for as much money as he can get. The freedom of the Press is the freedom of the reader to buy the paper of his choice.
What Mr. Cadbury did was to deny to millions, and certainly to 800,000 readers of an evening paper in London, the freedom to be able to choose the paper they want. This is his crime. Of course, he is collectively guilty with the rest of his directors. It is inconceivable that, when the paper was suffering in the way it was, the board of directors should go to the News of the World and think that they had the News of the World by the scruff of the neck and ask them for more money for printing the News of the World on the Manchester plant of the News Chronicle. By that 755 they threw away £50,000 a year, a very considerable contribution to the annual loss.
This, as the French would say, was not only bad management, it was worse. It was a mistake. What the News of the World said was, "All right. We do not want you any more. We will do a tie-up," and they took the steps that resulted in the death of the Empire News.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
If the hon. Member is attacking Mr. Cadbury, it is only fair to point out that the Cadbury family had not taken a dividend out of the News Chronicle or the Star for sixty years.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I do not know whether or not that is the case, but I am attacking Mr. Cadbury and his fellow directors for the reason that these newspapers are held in trust for the nation. They are important to the social and political life of the nation and if people fail in their trust, whether they have made money out of it or not, it is my view that I have a right to criticise.
The hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key), who, I regret to say, is not now in his place, was giving some examples from his experience and knowledge as a director of Associated Newspapers. He said that if we look at the correspondence that passed between Mr. Cadbury and Lord Rothermere we should see a picture entirely different from that produced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North.
I bothered to look at the correspondence before I came to the House. There are one or two pregnant phrases in it. One was:We feel that the Evening News is the natural home for the Star readers.Really! What was the Star? It was radical, it was lively, it was audacious.
§ Sir L. Plummer
It was a London cockney paper. It breathed the very spirit of the London cockney. The Evening News is dull, decorous and predictable. I remember that when Fitzhugh had been editor of the Evening News for twenty-five years there was a celebration lunch at the Savoy Hotel, a free 756 lunch paid for by the Evening News. Somebody said, "Fitz, what has been the secret of your success in reaching this circulation?" He replied, "My boy, far twenty-five years I looked for good and new ideas to keep out of the Evening News." The idea that the Evening News was a natural home for the Star is utterly ridiculous.
Another sentence of the correspondence reads:The Daily Mail and the News Chronicle have so much in common. …What did they have in common? That the Daily Mail set its headings in 72 point and the News Chronicle in 60 point. There was a complete division of views for many years between the News Chronicle and the Daily Mail. The hon. Member for Hastings gave the impression that the directors had been full of wisdom in what they had done in this salvage operation, as it was called.
§ Sir L. Plummer
To some extent Associated Newspapers and Lord Rothermere had been taken for mugs. I gather from my researches that the following has happened: 250,000 readers of the Star, or about that figure, have gone to the Evening Standard and about 250,000 have gone to the Evening News. About 300,000 readers have given up and are saving their 2½d. a day. For that benefit, Associated Newspapers has paid the appropriate share of the £2 million that it paid for the two papers, and Lord Beaverbrook has exacted the same extra sale as the Evening News and has not paid a penny for it. No wonder Lord Beaverbrook is feared in Fleet Street.
I come now to the question of the denial of the representative of the Daily Mail on 16th October that there was any truth in the statement that there was to be a merger with the News Chronicle. The hon. Member for Hastings said that this came from a junior executive of the staff. With my knowledge of the Daily Mail office, I find it impossible to believe that, in so tightly organised an outfit as that, any junior executive would dare to make that kind of statement without first having referred it either to the general manager of the paper or to the chairman. It is inconceivable that it should have taken place.
757 What is the result of that denial? I was not in the House of Commons then, but I remember the screams of outrage that came from Conservative newspapers when the late Sir Stafford Cripps denied that Britain was to devalue. He was told by the Press, in pejorative terms, that his reply was a disgraceful lie. It does not do for newspapers who use that sort of criticism for themselves to deny what was only twenty-four hours later an accomplished and established fact. What it did was to damage the prestige of newspapers considerably, for when the public realise that the newspapers themselves cannot tell the truth about their own negotiations they ask how much they can be relied upon to tell the truth about other things that they are reporting.
§ Mr. Driberg
In fairness to the memory of Sir Stafford Cripps, I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that there is a substantial contrast between the two cases: when Sir Stafford was saying, and kept on saying, that he had no intention of devaluing, it was really true, for he was hoping against hope, up to the last moment to be able to avoid it. When Cadbury and Co. said what they did they were lying, because they had the intention of merging.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and for the extra reason that during the last General Election I was having the Cripps "lie" thrown at me and it is useful that we should have on the record that statement of the situation.
I come now to the Tyne-Tees television licence. It was never in the view of the House, and certainly not in the spirit of the Television Act, 1954, that a programme licence should be held by a company which is in the top ten of television advertisers. If it had been projected that a big advertiser on television should have influence in a television programme company even the late Sir David Gammans would have protested.
This licence was given to the Daily News because it was a newspaper publishing organisation and not a financial trust. I suggest to Mr. Cadbury that if he wants to make proper recompense to the members of the staff, who, despite what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) had to say about generous compensation, were, in my view, 758 treated churlishly—perhaps coldly is the word—he could well transfer the interest that he has in Tyne-Tees to this gallant body of young men and women who are trying to start a new newspaper on the ashes of the News Chronicle. That would give them some capital backing and revenue which would help them very considerably indeed.
There is another reason why we should have an inquiry. One of the tragedies in journalistic life today is that the public are beginning to believe that the Press Council has some meaning. It has no meaning whatever. The Press Council is the prosecutor, the defender, the judge and the jury. To say that it is the executioner in all cases would be a gross exaggeration, but on occasions it inflicts some light slaps on the wrists of offending newspapers and journalists.
One of its functions was to deal with the growth of monopoly. Yet since it has been in operation—this body of newspaper proprietors and journalists and newspaper representatives only, with not one single lay member—the toll of deaths of newspapers has mounted and mounted. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and I addressed a letter to the Press Council of 2nd November dealing with the death of the News Chronicle and the Star and asking that the General Council should pay particular attention to the statement of the spokesman of the Daily Mail; the evidence of the increasing tendency towards monopolies; the terms of compensation offered to the staff; and the foisting on to members of the public by the Daily Mail circulation department of newspapers which they had never ordered—because the Daily Mail circulation department told the newsagents to deliver to News Chronicle readers copies of the Daily Mail.
We asked the Press Council to look at all these things, and all that the Press Council did in reply to my hon. Friend and myself was to send us a copy of a statement which it made to the Press in which it said that the Press Council greatly regrets the circumstances under which this tendency has increased in recent years.
No wonder! The chairman of the Press Council is the chief editorial and leader writer of the Daily Mail. He has an interest in this, as much interest as 759 the hon. Member for Hastings. How can we get objective treatment of this serious and threatening position when the Press Council is in the hands of people like that? What we really need is an inquiry. I want the inquiry to be conducted by people who are not connected with the newspaper industry as well as those who are closely connected with it. I should like to see the workers in the newspaper industry, who could say a few things about the restrictive practices of some of the proprietors, also represented in the inquiry.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North wrongly said that he could not answer questions because he had no right of reply to the debate. I understand that he has a right of reply, but I have not. I wish to put some questions to the Government. I do not doubt that the Government will say that these papers died because of the hard facts of economic life and that there is nothing that they can do about it. If that is the Government's reply, how do they square that with their decision to give or lend at low interest rates millions and millions of pounds to Cunard? Is it more important that we should have another "Queen" than that we should have a vigorous and flourishing Press? Which does more for our prestige? Is it necessary to give Fords millions of pounds to build their factories, but unnecessary to save newspapers from the cold winds of an economic blizzard?
The Government could help in many ways. They can see to it that groups trying to form new newspapers here can get assistance from the organisation which provide credit and finance for industry. The Government could encourage speculative investment in the newspaper business not in the interests of most speculators making a profit but in the interests of producing a strong, free and independent Press which would be worthy of our people.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I certainly wish to follow some of the comments which the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has just made, but I should first like to express my thanks to the hon.
760 Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) for initiating the debate. Everyone has reason to be grateful to him for the choice which, as he admitted, fell rather fortuitously to him. Certainly those associated with newspapers—I must at once declare an interest by stating that I am one of those—will be grateful. So will hon. Members. After all, hon. Members receive in one form and another a great deal of editorial advice from time to time, and it is agreeable on such occasions as this to be able to reciprocate.
But there is a much deeper justification for the hon. Gentleman's choice of subject, and that was touched upon by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), and if we are to be helpful today, it is important to realise it. For reasons which are not always understood, the peculiar relations between Parliament and the newspapers are an invaluable feature of our system of government. I say "peculiar" because, despite the hollow protestations of friendliness and trust which politicians may utter on suitable occasions, there is very little love lost between the two estates. That is a very excellent thing.
The relations between the politicians and the newspapers are founded not on sympathy but on antipathy. Both to some extent are rivals for influence over the public mind, and they take good care that neither should achieve a monopoly of it. In my view, therein lies the incalculable value of this relationship, because in countries where newspapers and politicians are in the same camp, there freedom is threatened. When some of my hon. Friends tell me that they have been knocked about by one newspaper or another, I always feel inclined to say that they must be prepared to suffer in a good cause.
Therefore, the House has an interest in preserving Fleet Street's share in this joint safeguard, and, as it has such an interest, it is not surprising that the sinking of the News Chronicle and the Star should cause great disquiet. On the face of it, it is incredible that the newspaper with 1 million readers, riding on a tide of Liberal opinion which, if I may speak rather cautiously, is at least not less favourable now than it has been during recent years, should founder. I for one should say that there is every 761 excuse for outside opinion to be disquieted by what happened.
I do not want to contribute anything to the raking over of the details of the transaction. Something has been said on each side about this. I am familiar with the outline of the negotiation, and when one has gone over it there seems to be still a wide margin, which I do not think this debate has yet gone far towards closing, for disagreement as to just where the culpability lay. That is not to make light of the disaster. That is the last thing I would do. I was a passenger in the last ship to sink before the News Chronicle. That was the old Morning Post. It had rather a different outlook, but it had some features in common with the News Chronicle. No one associated with that would make light of the tragedy which this kind of thing involves.
I must add that I think that even the Government, indirectly, are feeling the consequence of this. Since the death of the News Chronicle, they have, I discern, been having a rather rough passage from those newspapers which are anxious to suggest that the mantle of the News Chronicle has fallen upon their shoulders. In pursuit of the News Chronicle's former readers, we are all radicals now, so the Prime Minister has been getting biffs from rather unexpected quarters. That is all right, so long as none of the newspapers concerned goes on to accuse us of selling our souls in order to win votes—because I always think that the principles governing the pursuit of circulation and the pursuit of votes fall roughly under the same code.
Today, a newspaper must, for various reasons, attain a standard of success which the News Chronicle failed to attain. The late proprietors of the News Chronicle have come in for some rather rough handling, but it should be said that proprietors are often accused of interfering unduly in their newspapers. In this case the charge seems to be that they did not interfere enough.
The proprietors may have made errors in the closing stages of the changeover, but this is not the case of a headstrong proprietor running his newspaper on the rocks. As far as my knowledge goes—and I do not think that hon. Members opposite will contradict this, in the light of their own knowledge—the editorial staffs of the News Chronicle and the Star 762 enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom and initiative. The result, however, was not good enough. That may be a harsh thing to say, but unless we look at this realistically we may not draw the right lessons for the future. The crucial point is: what general factors contributing to the death of the News Chronicle could, if they prevailed, lead to the deaths of others elsewhere?
What flaws have been exposed in the system? Hon. Members want an inquiry. The principal job of an inquiry is to establish facts about a situation and then to recommend. I do not think that an inquiry is needed to estalish the relevant facts about Fleet Street's problems as they bore on the News Chronicle. In some ways I wish it could be said that an inquiry would help. If there were scandals to expose, and if an inquiry could suggest a remedy for them, the problem would be simpler. But the newspaper business is a highly complex one.
An exposition of that business would be tedious, even if I were qualified to give it—which I am not. But certain facts can be singled out without an inquiry. The first thing, which bears very heavily on the News Chronicle's fall, is the fact that the ratio of costs to output in Fleet Street differs from nearly every other industry. The heaviest basic costs are constant, whether circulations are high or low. For that reason, it is easier than it seems to outsiders, as the News Chronicle found, to run into heavy losses even with what appears to be a satisfactory readership.
Those heavy basic costs are a fundamental factor, and as we have heard, it is perhaps too easy to make swingeing generalisations in attributing their cause. One school will attribute the cause to wanton extravagance and mismanagement by proprietors; another school to the suicidal demands, as they call them, by the unions. Neither goes to the truth of the situation.
It is true that in Fleet Street the unions are strong, particularly the printing unions. They have made large and increasing demands, most of which have been met. I want to maintain impartiality here. There has been, moreover, a tendency, not confined to Fleet Street, to base demands upon the capacity of 763 the wealthiest to pay. That has been accompanied by a feeling among the wealthier that in paying they will not be the last to fall.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) observed, in one sense the Fleet Street proprietor—and this must be said in his defence—is peculiarly vulnerable to labour troubles. He has more cause than most industrialists to fear a sudden strike. All such strikes damage industry, but they are most damaging to an industry which is trying to produce a different article every twenty-four hours. There are firms which can survive strikes for two or three weeks, but a newspaper which shuts down for two or three days, while its rivals continue printing, is probably put out of business.
If all the newspapers agree to shut down—which is a big "if"—then we have a lockout, which is not desirable. It is, therefore, fair to charge proprietors with weakness, if that is one's particular school of thought, but if one wants to recommend something effective it is important to realise the main cause of it.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member said that there was a big "if" about whether, in the event of a strike in any one newspaper, the others would cease publication. I understand that there is a tight agreement between the newspapers that if one newspaper ceases publication for this reason, the others will automatically shut down for the same period.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am not alluding to any particular agreement. If they reach such an agreement—and it is a big "if"—they have agreed to a lockout. I make no comment, but that is what they would, in effect, have agreed to.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am not speaking of what they have or have not agreed, but that is a fact if such an agreement is reached.
People outside Fleet Street have spoken of protective practices by the unions. They would not find it very easy to draw up a list of these, certainly not a list which, in sum, would amount to a major factor in what we are discussing.
764 One valid factor is overstaffing. Every newspaper has to have a nominal staff, an establishment, in order to produce it. It is no use denying the fact that it is the endeavour—and it would be my endeavour if I were part of the unions—to get that nominal figure as reasonably high as possible. Newspapers, however, because of the arrangement of labour in Fleet Street, constantly have to produce with a number considerably below that establishment.
It once appeared reasonable that if 190 men—to take a notional example—were to do the work of 200 men in producing a newspaper, then the 190 should share the notional earnings of the missing 10. That has always been accepted, or it has come to be accepted recently. What is less reasonable is to inflate the notional figure of 200 to, say, 220 and then propose that 170 men should do the job and share the notional earnings of 50. That is a situation which sometimes arises, and it is one of over-staffing. Such arrangements are feasible, and explained perhaps, by the big force of casual labour in Fleet Street, which is possibly bigger than in almost any other comparable industry. This is something for which the entire industry must accept certain responsibility.
Here I take up the point which has been raised, if not this morning then outside the House, of why the trade unions did not reach more reasonable terms with the News Chronicle when they knew that the newspaper was in heavy water. In fairness it should be said that the system in Fleet Street virtually precluded such an offer being made or accepted. If, by agreement, the News Chronicle reduced the wages paid to the men producing the paper, die simple effect would have been that the News Chronicle would not have got any labour, because that is how the labour system in Fleet Street works.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Is it not the other corollary that the other newspapers would have said to the trade unions that they did not propose to pay their men any more than the News Chronicle paid its men?
§ Mr. Deedes
As the hon. Member knows, the labour system in Fleet Street is not attached to particular newspapers. It is a much more fluid labour force than 765 many outside people are able to recognise. To the economist and perhaps to some hon. Members such arrangements may well appear to be ill-advised and even outrageous. I believe that for the unions—I am seeking to explain and not to excuse—such arrangements arise less from greed than from fear.
If there is over-staffing it is because at root—it is no good anybody trying to laugh this off—there is a pathological fear among the unions about conditions between the wars. There is the misguided belief that over-staffing, the sort of set-up which we very often find, is the best protection against those conditions. Personally, I have some sympathy with that point of view. My connections with Fleet Street gave me connections with the distressed areas and many of the unemployment problems between the wars, and although that time is a quarter of a century ago, I can remember a conviction then as a reporter that the consequences of those conditions might last not for years, but for decades, and they have. Until that is understood by those who want to help Fleet Street through its troubles, neither inquiries, strikes, lock-outs, nor the House of Commons will restore the precarious economics of Fleet Street newspapers.
§ Mr. Driberg
I agree with much of what the hon. Member is saying, but would he agree that it is neither greed nor fear but rather a beneficent example of brotherliness that N.A.T.S.O.P.A., for instance, has been enabled, through this notional over-staffing, to absorb into other offices almost all the print workers displaced from the News Chronicle and the Star—with, of course, a consequent loss in earnings for the other workers?
§ Mr. Deedes
I acknowledge what the hon. Member said, and I hope that he realises that I am trying desperately hard to be fair, because it is fatal for anyone to strike an attitude for one side or the other. To say that the proprietors are always all wrong, or that the trade unions are always all wrong, will not get us anywhere. There is much to be said on both sides. That is why I think that the debate may be very useful, because it is urgent that these factors, which are perfectly well known in Fleet Street itself, should become more widely known and the implications recognised and acted upon by both sides in Fleet Street.
766 I have been restrained in what I have said about the attitude of the trade unions not because I am associated with the industry, but because neither Fleet Street nor anywhere else will get far by attributing these tragedies to extremism, Communist influence and the rest. Nevertheless, the truth must be stated here and it is that the attitude of some unions has gone some way towards damaging the goose which some are inclined to think, and I believe wrongly, is capable of laying golden eggs indefinitely.
That attitude had its share in the disaster which befell the News Chronicle and the Star. Basing demands, as it is always a temptation to do, on the capacity of the wealthiest to pay and bargaining for what it is hoped will be a position of greater security, which can often prove to be quite illusory, can easily produce in Fleet Street and elsewhere precisely the results which those concerned most fear.
Of course, there are two sides to this. The proprietors, too, have a much bigger and more responsible rôle to play than there has yet been shown awareness of. "If only some one would produce a bad balance sheet!" a manager exclaimed the other day when Fleet Street's troubles were being discussed. That is true. The News Chronicle could have produced a bad balance sheet sooner than it did, and so could the Sunday Graphic and I know of one or two others among the quick which could produce a bad balance sheet. But so many proprietors maintain an attitude of indefensible secrecy and play with their cards close to their chest, which is every bit as short-sighted as some of the trade unions' demands.
It is not the job of the House of Commons, or of an inquiry, to explain the facts of life to those people. It is for the proprietors and the unions to have a look at the figures together, and it does not need an inquiry for them to do that. Until they do so, I think that the proprietors may well be pushed further and further down this same dangerous track.
Having spoken rather over-long, I conclude by saying as I have said before, that there has always been a healthy mistrust between newspaper proprietors and politicians, and long may it flourish. There is nothing new in it. It reached 767 its fullest flower in the days of Northcliffe and it had its moments during the days of Baldwin, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere. That is good, but it is not so good sometimes when it comes to tendering advice from the House, because politicians are apt to see proprietors in an unflattering light—horns, hooves, forked tails and all.
Personally, I grow increasingly nostalgic for proprietors in the Northcliffe mould, preferring them to the anonymous, faceless board room of today. Lord Beaverbrook was once described as a pedlar of dreams. It may be unfashionable and reactionary to say it, but I prefer a prominent, public pedlar of dreams to an anonymous pedlar of pornography. At least one knows who the proprietor is, what he is doing and for what he is responsible—he is often only too anxious to tell us.
Popular newspapers, which in the main we are discussing today, began under Lord Northcliffe as vehicles for propaganda in the hands of wealthy men. Looking back, perhaps they have certain advantages over newspapers which are now run purely as commercial enterprises. The fact remains that running newspapers today is an expensive, troublesome and hazardous operation. A good deal has been said in the opposite sense this morning and that might be fairly interposed there.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not deny that for a moment, but certain anxieties go with profitability. That may be true because they tend to be in the possession of wealthy men or are the products of successful commercial policy.
However, if we dispense with both and engage in some form of public enterprise, then the basis of freedom is lost. The hon. Member for Deptford referred to the possibility of arrangements similar to those which the Government have already made in respect of the Cunarder. Whatever one's views may be about the Government loan to Cunards, I should be very disquieted by any suggestion that some such arrangement might be used to assist Fleet Street. It is one thing to impose terms on a liner crossing the Atlantic and another thing to impose terms on a newspaper which might have 768 to attack the Government, and I think that on reflection the hon. Member will see that the two are not on the same footing.
It is precisely the suggestion of a subsidy from public sources to assist Fleet Street which scares me most of any of the possibilities which have been discussed this morning. It can be said that the concentration has got into the hands of too few. I say that that is less due to the ambitions of the few than to the exigencies of the industry.
This trend is not confined to Fleet Street. Some hon. Members spoke as though newspaper proprietors were in a class of their own, but the trend of big units can be seen throughout industry. Nor is Fleet Street immune from the rapid changes in public taste, which have transformed so many industries.
Contrary to what has been said, my view is that they survived the impact of television remarkably well, and far better than one might have supposed in view of the large slice of advertising revenue which has gone to television. Quite possibly, for this and other reasons, Fleet Street's heaviest trials lie just ahead, and I think that some will be totally outside the control of the newspapers. We must not encourage them to believe that the Government, through an inquiry, can meet them all. The solution lies rather in both sides, unions and employers, dispelling the atmosphere of make-believe which divides them and acting with some regard to the realities.
The Royal Commission established in 1949 was established in the belief that the power of the Press was increasing and ought to be diminished. It is now suggested that there should be an inquiry because the power of the Press has decreased, and is decreasing, and ought to be increased. I do not follow that line at all. I think that it is a positive disservice to pretend that it can solve this problem. All that we can do is to express the hope that Fleet Street, which offers so much counsel to others, not least on the subject of industrial relations, will take some of its own homilies to heart. Newspapers believe that they exist at their best to discern the truth. It may be that their own health, and perhaps their future, depends on their capacity to see the truth about themselves and to act on it.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
This is not the first time that the House has had cause to be grateful to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) for raising issues of social concern and public importance. I add my word of thanks to him for having raised this important subject today.
I have a variety of interests to declare. I suppose that I call myself an intermittent freelance journalist whose contributions were greatly accelerated in various organs of different colours at the time of the News Chronicle's closure, no doubt for reasons not wholly attributable to my renowned skill in journalism, but possibly in the hope that Liberal readers might be persuaded to buy the newspaper once and get into the habit of holding on to it. I did read the News Chronicle, but I do not read the Daily Mail.
I say this, which is perhaps of greater interest, that I was associated with a group, perhaps I should say a movement, which, had it been given the opportunity, would at least have wished, and certainly felt entitled, to make a bid, not to merge and murder, but to keep in independent existence the News Chronicle and the Star.
Let me say at once to the hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) that I do not criticise Associated Newspapers Limited. Even if I were to do so, it would be outside the scope of this Motion. I do not criticise the company at all. I accept that it was a rescue operation. I accept that the luxury liner of Lord Rothermere slowed down to throw the lifebelts into the sea to save Laurence Cadbury and others from drowning. What I am concerned about is that the sinking ship had been scuttled originally and that there are many people for whom, through no fault of Associated Newspapers Limited, there are no lifebelts. They are still swimming and have not reached dry land. That is what I think is the condemnation of the action of the management of the News Chronicle.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) is a journalist. He comes from a newspaper which was diametrically opposed to the News Chronicle, but it 770 speaks for the fraternity and the traditions of Fleet Street that his sympathy was as sincere and as heartfelt over the closure of the News Chronicle as that of any other hon. Member who has spoken. As one who feels keenly the loss of the News Chronicle personally, I thank him very much for his words.
About eleven years ago the Royal Commission on the Press drew attention to the death rate in the newspaper industry. Between 1921 and 1948 forty-one general daily and Sunday newspapers died. In the last ten years alone, ninety-eight newspapers and magazines have perished, many of them familiar household names—Picture Post, Lilliput, and the Daily Dispatch—and now the News Chronicle, to be followed very shortly by the Sunday Graphic, and perhaps two or three more.
Perhaps the most interesting comment on those closures is that Mr. Roy Thomson thought is economically preferable—he may be right—to close a paper with a circulation of 2 million so that he could undertake the printing of another Sunday newspaper which hitherto had been a competitor.
The Royal Commission drew attention to three forms of concentration in the newspaper industry—the high proportion of total circulation possessed by one paper in reaching a particular client; the number of papers in one chain; and local monopolies. During the last ten years each of these three types of concentration has been aggravated. The Royal Commission said:… the number of newspapers today was not so large that any further decrease could be contemplated without anxiety. We should deplore any tendency on the part of the larger chains to expand.Why is it that we are concerned about the closure of any newspaper, whatever its politics, which has a living tradition? It is, I think, because the difference between a democracy and a totalitarian régime is that in a democracy minorities not merely have rights and opinions, but can express those views. We have very-jealously guarded the right of the position' of the radical tradition in this country' to put forward its point of view, whatever may be the Government of the day. I use "radical" in its purest sense as-, meaning those who are prepared to get to the root of the problem and expose it in terms of social reform.
771 We are also concerned because a newspaper is not merely a body, but has a soul. If anything could be said about the News Chronicle, it is this, that it could rely on the passionate loyalty both of its readers and, as I shall hope to show, its staff. Therefore, when one considers the method of the closure of the News Chronicle I think that one is entitled to say that the method of the closure mirrored the type of management which it had for the last five or ten years. There are conclusions which one can draw which may possibly protect other newspapers which may be placed in this plight. It is a terrifying thought that a paper with a circulation of over 1 million, and an evening paper with a circulation of over 700,000, should have seen 3,500 men put on to the street.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) mentioned the experience of Mr. Bernard Shaw as a musical critic, I hope that when he terminated his engagement he had more knowledge than Alan Dent, the theatrical correspondent, who knew of the closure of the paper for which he worked when the bastard edition of the Daily Mail and News Chronicle fell on to the mat by his front door. That was the first he knew of the closure of the paper for which he had given his all.
The News Chronicle had great traditions, not merely in the names of men like Cruikshank, Robert Lind, Dickens and A. J. Cummings. It can be said to have opposed every form of tyranny and oppression wherever it reared its head. In 1951, the News Chronicle said that George Cadbury had made the paper the courageous advocate of social reform, and in its early days the Daily Mail had no more bitter critic than the News Chronicle itself. In fact, it was Mr. Gardiner, the editor, who said of Northcliffe, before the First World War:Democracy knows you as the poisoner of the streams of human intercourse, the fomenter of war.I do not think that those strictures are quite as merited today, or would be made with the same ferocity, but they certainly show on Mr. Cadbury's part an interesting lack of historical knowledge when he maintained that the News Chronicle and the Daily Mail had so many fundamental principles in common. The only explanation we were given was that increasing costs involved mounting losses and that 772 there was no hope of putting the papers on to a sound basis. What that really means is that there had been increasing costs and not a corresponding increase in income, an argument which almost every bankrupt puts forward in Carey Street and which the Official Receiver very seldom accepts without further inquiry.
Why, then, did the paper close? Was it due to restrictive practices and staff problems? Was it because the paper was not in the 4 million class of circulation? Was it the cost of newsprint? I do not believe that it died for any of these reasons. I believe that it was because the proprietors and management had been weak and ineffective and failed to take into consideration the lack of co-operation they could have got from their staff and which, on the only occasion when they consulted the staff, they succeeded in getting.
When one considers the rôle of George Cadbury, the founder of this tradition, who was one of the greatest pioneers in improved industrial relations, when one considers the estate which he built for his workpeople, when one considers the employment conditions he gave to those men, I should say that the treatment of the staff of the News Chronicle today by the present Cadbury family provides the strongest argument I know against the hereditary principle. The paper had ceased, I believe, in the minds of the management to be any longer a living tradition.
Instead of an instrument of social reform, it became one of the less profitable holdings in the Cadbury portfolio. Therefore, it was jettisoned, but those parts which were economically profitable were not jettisoned. We know that there is still leasehold property in the City and there is the City library attached to it. We know of the various publications which were making a profit. Two of those have been retained by the philanthropist who was devoting every penny of the sale price to compensating his employees. The tragedy is that the proprietors not only underestimated the outlook of the paper, but disregarded the loyalty of the staff. They never sought to appeal to the staff, or to take them into their confidence. There never was a real fight on the business side of the 773 paper to make it pay. There was drift and ineptitude, and a succession of executives were imported from other newspapers.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Is the hon. Member aware that in the two weeks, certainly in the final week, before the News Chronicle died its management was hiring men away from other newspapers and that this was at a time when the management knew that negotiations were going on for the demise of the paper?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. That is perfectly true.
Top journalists were being signed on in the preceding spring, with the full knowledge of the management, for long periods of engagement. Many of them could at that moment have had more profitable employment. They signed on for long periods because of their loyalty to the paper and that very loyalty has made it very difficult for them at this stage to get other employment. I am glad that the hon. Member raised that point, because I think it is one which the Minister of Labour should look into.
Recently, we have seen a succession of top journalists and executives imported from other newspapers. There was Mr. Chandler, who came as managing director in 1951. He was unable to get any clear definitive policy from the management, and he resigned in January, 1953. Mr. Chapman came from the Daily Express and became associate editor to Mr. Cruikshank. Again, he was unable to get any clear policy from the management. He heard in 1954 on the radio that the editor had resigned, and he followed suit. The staff at this stage, having lost within a short compass of time the managing director, associate editor and editor, went to the management and asked that a joint consultative committee should be formed, and it was formed in 1955. Mr. Curtis was then appointed editor. He at least knew the sort of paper he wanted to build up, a a cross between the Manchester Guardian and The Times. In 1957, he too, was forced to resign, because he was unable to get from the management any clear picture of what the policy should be.
In June, 1957, the management entered secret negotiations with Odhams with a view to amalgamation with the Daily 774 Herald. Again, the staff was worried and concerned and again asked for a meeting with the management to thrash out what was to be the future of the paper and whether in any way they could make a contribution. They claimed that the management lacked clear and vigorous direction—that executives constantly arrived and then left, and that possibly the time had come for Mr. Cadbury to be replaced by a more junior and mentally precise and determined member of the Cadbury house—but nothing happened.
Mr. Randall was offered the editorship and when he said that he did not think that the newspaper could pay as a Daily Express type of newspaper he, too, left. Then Mr. Coope came on the scene as managing director. He was a man who had left the Daily Mirror and given up his directorship. I believe that for that gesture he received £35,000 compensation. It was Mr. Coope who tried to tackle restrictive practices. It was Mr. Coope who was the first recorded executive who approached the trade unions and asked for co-operation in trying to lower the costs and it was he, as the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North has shown, who was successful in that approach. Mr. Coope said that he was immensely pleased with the response he got. The hon. Member has read the quotation in full, so I shall not repeat it. It was to the mechanical staff that Mr. Coope made that approach, which was successful.
Then, in December, 1958, the editor was being pressed for some policy. Who were to be the readers? What was to be the approach? Then the editor, Mr. Cursley, said that his approach was to "readers of all kinds." One might think that a somewhat nebulous line for a paper which was declining year in and year cut. Mr. Coope said at that stage that the group had been fortunate to get the franchise of the Tyne-Tees Television. According to a note taken, at the time, he then said that this would be a valuable asset to the business, which certainly left the employees with the impression that the finances of the Tyne-Tees Television would be an important addition to the Daily News Group.
By March, 1959, the journalists, in desperation, decided that they would approach Mr. Cadbury personally. They said that they were disappointed that 775 the radical flavour of the paper had gone and they were concerned at the number of senior executives who had been taken on. They pointed out that in the sub-editors' office, whereas there had been four executives, since the decline in circulation that number had been increased to seven. I should point out that the people who would have been stood off as a result of those submissions would have been journalists. Therefore, the National Union of Journalists realised that in making these representations it might be affecting the employment and security of its own members, but they were passionately concerned to see this paper of great radical tradition restored to its previous greatness.
Then there was the meeting in January, 1960, a meeting which was equally inconclusive, and the final meeting of the staff in August, when Mr. Cadbury refused to receive them. I would say not merely to Mr. Cadbury, but to any newspaper proprietor, "Why not take your staff into your confidence?" The News Chronicle always claimed to be a Liberal newspaper. There is no monopoly of morality in this matter, but I should always say that it was a Liberal tenet that one should improve industrial relations by consultation with one's workpeople and bringing them into some of the problems of management.
Where should this have been in any greater measure in Fleet Street than in the News Chronicle and Star? These men were never consulted, and were never given any guide to what the policy of the paper should be. I believe that if they had been consulted, they would have responded. Certainly, if anyone doubts the loyalty of the employees of these papers, he has only to see the activities of the Action Group, in which there are many journalists who are still not yet back in employment but who are living on their savings so that they may be able to start a new newspaper to keep alive this tradition which, I think, was so brutally and unncessarily murdered.
If one accepts that no effort was made to obtain the co-operation of the staff, less effort was made to preserve the newspapers intact. I accept what the hon. Member for Hastings says, that 776 although there were negotiations two years ago, Associated Nepspapers never made it a condition that it would be given the offer of the first refusal. I accept that from the hon. Gentleman; it was news to me, but, nevertheless, I accept it. If that be so, it makes even more incomprehensible the chilly rebuffs which were delivered by the management, Mr. Coope and Mr. Cadbury, every time there was any suggestions from outside groups that this newspaper might be purchased in order to keep it in independent existence.
At no time was any leader of the Liberal Party, which, I should have thought, might have been thought to have some interest in the independent survival of these newspapers, ever approached. In fact, their inquiries were greeted with replies that gave a contrary impression. Even at the very end, when Mr. Frank Byers wished to go to see Mr. Cadbury, he was stalled off, pushed off, so that the agreement could be signed first. He specifically asked for an interview, but was told that he had to wait, and by the time the interview was granted, the ink was dry on the agreement.
At no time was the Australian offer seriously considered. One hon. Member asked what was the nature of it. There was the £10,000 deposit, to keep open an option for six weeks, and Mr. Cadbury said on television that he thought some sort of figures were mentioned, which, if I may say so, shows remarkable business acumen. At no stage was there a genuine attempt made to keep alive and retain the principles which George Cadbury founded. Mr. Cadbury said that Liberal and Conservative traditions were now happily blended. The only person likely to share that extraordinary view would be a National Liberal, and National Liberals are not particularly noted for their Liberal or Conservative contributions. I believe that if one wants any further evidence of dithering ineptitude one has only to look at the position in which the News of the World was placed when it raised the cost of its printing in Manchester, and it was hoped that this would force it to purchase the building. Unfortunately, that one did not pay off.
So a great philanthropist has murdered two newspapers, and the honourable 777 traditions of those newspapers, which his family founded, retaining to himself the City offices, albeit on lease, the publications, albeit making only a slight profit, the Tyne-Tees Television holding and all the other trimmings which were profitable. I say to Mr. Cadbury that the highest compliment one could pay him before this take-over merger was that he was the least known of the newspaper proprietors, but now he has established a claim to immortality, because he will go down as the "Butcher of Bouverie Street".
These papers need never have died. The lessons of this affairs for Fleet Street and the country are, first, that the proprietors, when faced with this sort of situation, should at least try to take the staff into their confidence. They should at least try to see whether an appeal to reason could not be made to ease the restrictive practices which, I admit at once, have placed a crippling financial burden on every newspaper in the country. It was tried once by the News Chronicle and it had a limited degree of success. Secondly, I believe that the public should have a far greater say in what the consumer is getting, and that is why I regret that the recommendation of the Royal Commission, to the effect that there should be consumer representation on the Press Council, was not accepted.
There is a case for the Monopolies Commission to consider in so far as the supply of London's evening newspapers has been deliberately restricted to under three. That, I believe, is a prima facie case for reference to the Monopolies Commission. I also say that this is the moral for Mr. Cadbury. If one has a racehorse and cannot pick a good trainer to keep it in condition, one should see whether it could not go into a stable where that horse could be properly cared for, and not take it out into the backyard and shoot it, for that is what has happened with these newspapers.
I hope that the Action Group will be successful. It has set itself a tremendous job of work, but I hope that it is successful, and I am sure that it will have the sympathy of all who cherish the ideals of a free Press. I believe that this was a tragedy, the effects of which are not yet fully realised. It would never have 778 happened if the present Mr. Cadbury had been as his father was, but unfortunately, that was not to be, and these newspapers have died, murdered, have been submerged, and all that the Daily Mail has done is to throw out a lifebelt to save the drowning men. One can only hope that those still swimming will shortly be able to reach the land.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I can well understand the frustrated Indignation of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), and the annoyance which it must have caused him to see a very popular Liberal organ disrupted in this way. We have heard many vicious attacks today on Mr. Cadbury, and I am only sorry that when we make these attacks in this House they cannot be answered by the man in question, because I think, as a businessman, that there may be more to be said for Mr. Cadbury than is popularly believed.
I speak in the debate as one of the few people who is not a journalist or a newspaper director, but as a member of the public, and as one who has had the benefit of advice from constituents who are in the newspaper industry. There are one or two things which we must look at from the business point of view. It is gaily said that Mr. Cadbury ought to have accepted the Australian offer, or that he should have listened to Mr. Byers, or somebody who would carry on the newspaper, but he said, and I well believe it, that the newspaper needed £40,000 a week, or £4 million over two years, to carry it on. I should like to ask Mr. Packer, of Australia, if he was willing to finance it to that extent and to go into the newspaper world to that amount of money.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The facts, which have never been challenged, are that a figure of £2½ million was mentioned from the Australian group, coupled with a £10,000 deposit to enable the option to remain over for six weeks, and with a guarantee to keep the newspapers going for three years. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, as far as the staff and the readers are concerned, that was a preferable proposition to that which was accepted?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
If the proposition was made with these conditions to it so that, at the end of the day, after another three or four years, the News Chronicle would have been in the same position as it is now, it would not have been any better, from a business point of view. One must look at the economic situation, and Mr. Cadbury has said that it required £40,000 a week to resuscitate it. After all, these monopolistic trends have been going on all over the world, and in every part of this country and in every business, and it is one which it is extremely difficult to reverse. I will give in a minute what I think were the reasons for the newspaper falling into difficulties.
Let us look at the facts on 17th October and see what was really happening. Associated Newspapers made an offer of £1,925,000 and an additional sum, which was dependent on the increased circulation of the Daily Mail and Evening News. We hope to hear in a few months that that additional sum will have been paid. I understand that the whole of that amount, less winding-up expenses, will go to the benefit of the staff. It goes, as we have heard, in a minimum of two weeks' payment for the humblest workers and, of course, more for those on more than one week's notice; in an extra week's holiday pay which they have not had during that year—perhaps because they had not had three weeks' holiday; in a week's basic pay for everyone over 21 for each year worked, and £500,000 for the funding of pensions and special consideration for hardship cases.
If £1¾ million is to go to 3,500 staff it is not a bad bargain for them, because if the newspaper had gone on for another few years and there had not been any assets at all to sell, the unfortunate people on the staff would not have got anything—
§ Mr. Thorpe
Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that a new management would necessarily have been as incompetent as the old?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am not assuming that, but I shall show in a minute or two that these two newspapers were on the way downhill. I only say that the amount of money that has been acquired for a newspaper that was going downhill is something to the credit of 780 Mr. Cadbury. I think that he has done quite well to obtain nearly £2 million for the benefit of the staff, and, as a businessman, I congratulate him on that, at least.
Mr. Cadbury has also been criticised for the secrecy that he observed. He had to observe secrecy. Anyone who has been in negotiations for a merger between one company and another has to observe secrecy, and all the more so in the case of negotiations affecting newspapers, and particularly of these newspapers. Had he said a month before he reached agreement that he intended to dispose of his newspapers, Associated Newspapers would not have paid £2 million, or anything like it, for what it bought. I understand that on 17th October Mr. Cadbury explained to the trade union representatives, and followed that by explaining to the shop stewards his reasons for selling.
By and large, he got a good bargain. Over the last three years, the circulation of the News Chronicle had fallen by 232,000 and that of the Star by 172,000. The trouble was that, for one reason or another, they were not appealing to the younger generation, and, therefore, were not on the up-and-up as newspapers go. Referring to a recent readership survey of popular papers by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the Financial Times said:… News Chronicle readership tended to be below the national average among women, among housewives, and among the younger age groups and the lower social classes.In other words, it was becoming an old man's paper, and was presumably dying because of it. It did not appeal to the younger generation, and for that reason the advertisers were deserting it. Further, as the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has said, the advertising rate of the News Chronicle was more expensive than any other—
§ Mr. Mayhew
Is the fact that advertisers prefer younger readers to older readers a good reason for a newspaper getting into trouble?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
It is one of the facts of economic life. One of the best markets for an advertiser is among the younger, unmarried age groups, so advertisers naturally go to newspapers with volatile, buoyant readership—people with money in their pockets. 781 Those newspapers may not appeal to retired clergymen who may have been readers of the News Chronicle. Their appeal is to those who have the money to buy the goods. That has to be taken into account when one is an advertiser. We can, perhaps, blame Mr. Cadbury for not making his newspaper more popular with the younger generation.
In addition to this falling readership, Mr. Cadbury was faced with a rising cost of salaries and wages. The wages and salary bill of the News Chronicle and the Star went up by £812,000 in the last five years. In that situation, I suggest that it would have been hopeless for him to have gone on until he had no asset at all to sell. There has been a lot of talk about his having valuable City assets. I understand that they were only leasehold assets next door to Associated Newspapers, and that one of the things that Associated Newspapers picked up may have been a public house.
The detailed reasons for the ending of this newspaper are the rising costs of running it—a rising salary and wage bill and the heavy staff with which those newspapers were loaded. They had a staff of between 3,400 and 3,500. The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News manage to run their newspapers on a total staff of 1,700—nearly half—and there may well be a case for saying that the News Chronicle and the Star were overstaffed.
It has been estimated that the overheads of the two newspapers were about £6,000, materials and supplies, £80,000 and salaries and wages, £70,000. The salary and wage bill was about 45 per cent. of the turnover. The Beaverbrook Press has published its full figures, and its wage and salary bill is about 26 per cent. of its turnover. One can therefore say that the News Chronicle and the Star were overstaffed as compared with other newspapers. They had 300 journalists. I do not know whether that is too many, but it certainly sounds a large number for the running of two newspapers in one building—
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
An hon. Member opposite made great play about the salaries enjoyed by journalistic staff. The Beaverbrook figure of 26 per cent. is on a total bill involving all employees. Surely, the figure for the editorial staff is only a fraction of that—a very small 782 proportion of the cost of producing the newspapers. That point should have been made in this debate and in the hon. Member's speech.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
It is difficult to disentangle the proportion, because we have not seen the detailed accounts of the News Chronicle and the Star. In the figures of the Beaverbrook Press the total wages and salaries are put together. However, judging by the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News. I should say that the News Chronicle and the Star were overstaffed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Better managed."] Yes, but had there been wholesale sackings there might have been just as much disgruntlement as there is now.
The proprietors of the News Chronicle were in the same difficulty as other newspaper proprietors. They are bound by the practices followed by the industry. The newspaper proprietors are the first to tell us that we must have wage restraint, that we must not give way to wage demands, but they saddle themselves with very high wages in Fleet Street. A cleaner is paid £14 or £15 a week to clean out the offices, whereas a hospital cleaner is paid only £10 a week. The newspaper packers get several pounds a week more than do those in ordinary industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said that the industry is in a difficulty because it deals with a product that has to be made every day, but I cannot help feeling that the ghost of Alfred Harmsworth still walks in Fleet Street. He said that he would accept high salaries and wages to put his minor competitors out of business. That ghost must be laughing today; he has certainly succeeded, but it is no credit to newspaper proprietors as a whole.
These two newspapers were faced with problems of high costs which only publications with enormous circulations can maintain. That leads to monopolistic tendencies, with increased concentration in a few hands.
Could the News Chronicle have made bargains with the trade unions over this matter? I was interested to hear whether hon. Members opposite thought it was possible. It is generally agreed that rotary presses are overmanned in this country as compared with America. The Royal Commission 783 on the Press said that an American walked round a British newspaper office and found a rotary press, which, in America, was worked by five men, being worked by 13 or 14 men. Could the News Chronicle have made a bargain with the union concerned to adopt the American practice?
I have here a letter from a constituent of mine, saying:Since I am employed in the wholesale distributive side of the industry you will understand that I am specially privileged to learn the facts of the anarchic state into which the publishing houses have fallen by reason of the greed of the men, the Fathers of Chapel and the union executives, on the one hand, and, on the other, by reason of the cowardice of the managements and editors of our allegedly 'free Press' who are afraid even to mention (with the exception of the Telegraph and some provincial dailies) that the book"—which was written on this subject"—has been published.I am informed that in the packing department, in 1939, 66 men used to move 51 tons of newsprint in the course of a day. In 1960, 171 men move 65 tons, which means that the productivity in that department has gone down by 50 per cent. since 1939, which is contrary to what has happened in every other section of British industry where productivity has gone up by means of the use of new machinery, and so on. The cost of moving a ton of newsprint has gone up from £1 3s. 2d. before the war to £7 1s. 2d. in 1960.
In the machine room there had to be a packer at the top of a conveyor belt as well as at the bottom. There are four machine hands who are capable of putting the quires as they come off the machine on to the conveyor belt, but by the old practices they were not permitted to do that. They had to put the paper on a table and it was lifted from the table by a packer onto the conveyor belt.
On 8th April there was a three-hour strike of packers at the News Chronicle, who refused to handle a 32-page paper. If that demand had been accepted, there would have been more than double the number of packers than there were before the war to handle a 32-page paper. All those things ought to be investigated. I hope that hon. Members who are knowledgeable in these matters may have an opportunity to say something on this subject.
784 Looking at the process workers, many advertisements are sent to offices from advertising agencies as stereos, which are metal plates containing the type, pictures and drawings which go into the advertisements. There is no need for the case room men to set up the stereos, because they are already set up. But the men still draw money for that purpose. If the same advertisement runs in the newspaper for more than one day, the case room men charge for each day on which it is published. This leads to higher costs of production.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I have never worked in London because provincial newsmen cannot come into London. But it should be remembered that through the years those men have been employed on a piecework basis. It is true that they can pick up a 2-inch advertisement carrying one, two or three lines of type and they get paid for it. This is quoted against them. But what is not mentioned is the fact that next time they go to the copy desk and lift a piece of copy they probably get a lot of racing matter, which is about the worst kind of stuff that an operator can get to set, and it will take a very long time to do it because there is no punctuation other than commas. The hon. Member should try to set up stuff without punctuation, after having been used to punctuating copy, and he will find that it is very difficult to set. Nothing is said about these things. We only hear the employers' side, about the copy with three lines of type to set.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I have already said that I am not a newspaper man or a journalist. I am basing what I am saying on what I have been told by constituents of mine who work in the newspaper world.
As representatives of the public who are interested in whether they have to 785 pay 2d., 3d., or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) said, 6d. to keep the newspapers going, we are all interested in this subject. I am putting forward one or two ideas to see whether the high cost of newspapers can be brought down.
Another instance given by someone who worked on the News Chronicle was that if there was a picture coming into the office rather later than the others a whole team of process workers had to be kept back to process it. A process worker is supposed to be skilled in six different categories, so I am informed. Therefore, one man could do the one picture. He could make the block for the picture. But, in fact, one team plus one camera operator would be kept back for an hour or two in order to get the photograph ready.
Those are the kinds of things which ought to be examined. One could multiply them, but it is obvious that where one has eleven unions involved, as one has in a newspaper, there must be a certain amount of overlapping. There may be a certain amount of demarcation and segregation of jobs and the same sort of thing which has occurred in the shipbuilding industry and has caused so much trouble in the past. There is the old story that only a member of the E.T.U. can change a lamp bulb.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
At least, they do some creditable things.
One cannot help asking whether those practices did not cost the News Chronicle tens of thousands of pounds and what would have been the result if the management of the News Chronicle had made a separate bargain with the unions, outside national agreements, on this sort of thing. Could they have kept the paper going? I think that there is a case for saying that they might have done.
We should look at these matters in the large. Great Britain has lost her share of world markets. The percentage has gone down from 23 a few years ago to only 17 today. There is no doubt that we are less adaptable in industry than many other countries, including West Germany, which has taken our place in world markets. There are peculiar things on both sides of industry which need 786 looking at. Therefore, it would not be a bad thing if there were an inquiry.
One of the points of the inquiry into the Press should be an examination of the trade unions and some of those curious old practices which have grown up. I believe that Fleet Street, despite the advice which comes to Parliament, is one of the worst places for labour management in the country.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Does the hon. Member agree that the inquiry should extend to the newsprint industry as well? If he looks through the figures he will find that this is where the supreme cost arises Paper and ink are the supreme charges on newspapers. Why not inquire into them as well?
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I listened with attention to the speech by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). I am happy to leave the defence of the printing unions to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) who can, no doubt, defend the position of his colleagues more effectively than I can.
Listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham, I found recurring a rather high proportion of material which appeared to be derived from the book by Mr. Edward Martell. That proportion was almost as high as the proportion of Press revenue derived from advertising to which I intend to address myself.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I should say that the matters referred to by myself are only about half of what appeared in Mr. Martell's book. Every matter that I referred to was supplied to me by individuals closely connected with the industry.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think that the total advertising revenue of the Press is slightly above that proportion, and this is the subject to which I wish to address myself.
We have heard a number of attacks on trade unionists, particularly those who 787 work on the printing side of the newspaper industry. It would be interesting to hear, either during the debate or from the proprietors of the Daily News Ltd., something of what has happened to the high executives. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and others about the inadequate compensation paid to working members of the staff. We have not heard anything about the compensation paid to the senior executives. I think that we axe all prepared to accept the fact that Mr. Laurence Cadbury made no money out of the transaction, but what compensation was paid to senior executive members of the staff? Nothing has been said about this. There is a good deal of curiosity about it among former working members on the staff of the News Chronicle and the Star, and the general public.
I am a member of the National Union of Journalists. From time to time I make a little money out of journalism and broadcasting, and I was for most of its career a reader of the News Chronicle. The last issue of that newspaper contained 1,232 column inches of editorial matter and 528 column inches of advertising matter. I want to discuss briefly the effect of the growing dependence of newspapers in this country on advertising, on the closure of the News Chronicle, and on the monopolisation of the Press to which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), in drawing attention to it, rendered us all a service. I think that this is one of the fundamental points that would have to be looked at very carefully, supposing that a Government inquiry or any other inquiry were to be conducted, and it is one of the basic facts of life of the newspaper industry as it has developed.
I was very interested to hear the other day Mr. Roy Thomson, whose name has been mentioned several times this afternoon, saying, in answer to an interrogation about why he was closing the Sunday Graphic, that the declining advertising revenue was the reason. I believe I am right in saying that he gave this as the only financial reason that was involved. There are no figures for this year, but in 1956, 1957 and 1958 we had figures of the proportion of the total expenditure on advertising which was 788 going to the Press. In 1956, out of £309 million total expenditure, £146 minion went to newspapers and periodicals. In 1957, the figures were £350 million and £175 million, and in 1958 the figures were £185 million out of a total of £375 million.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the fact that when commercial television started it attracted large sums of advertising money away from the newspapers. This hit the advertising departments of the daily and Sunday newspapers quite hard in the early years. It is my belief that the newspapers have now recovered from this and that there has been an upsurging of advertising revenue into the daily and Sunday Press. Indeed, the latest edition of the Statistical Review on Press Advertising, published only a couple of days ago and covering the third quarter of 1960, shows that expenditure on Press advertising increased by 33.03 per cent. over the same quarter of last year—a very dramatic increase. The Statistical Review calls attention to the fact that perhaps the largest single increase was on tobacco advertising, particularly by cigarette manufacturers, and that the brewers spent over £130,000 more than in the same quarter of 1959.
At the same time, there has been a considerable increase in Government spending on advertising in the national daily and Sunday papers. This is a matter with which the Government are very closely concerned. Among the consequences of this rapid growth of advertising in the Press may be the danger that we shall shortly find a situation like that which exists in North America. Some of my hon. Friends referred to the size of the Sunday newspapers in the United States. I saw the same thing in Canada not long ago where I had to throw away nine-tenths of the paper before I could get to the part which I wanted to read. The main reason for this fantastic growth in the number of pages is that newspapers are more and more coming to depend for their economic life on advertising. That is why the number of pages is being constantly inflated.
I understand that Mr. Thomson's ambition is to produce newspapers of something like the size of those with which he is familiar in his own country. I should deplore that. One of the sad 789 features of the Observer is that it is now competing with the Sunday Times by making itself bigger. I should read it with much greater pleasure if it were one-quarter of its present size. The reason for the increase in the number of pages is fundamentally that they are being used as vehicles for advertising, with an increasingly smaller proportion of news.
Another point, which has been raised a number of times in the debate, is the price of newspapers. To the public who live with the idea that their newspapers are costing them less, because of the benevolent activities of the advertisers, I would say that the idea that they are getting something for nothing is, of course, quite fallacious. They are paying for a cheaper Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, or The Times and the Guardian for that matter, by costs being inflated on other products in order to pay for the enormous advertising expenditure, a large proportion of which is going to subsidise those papers. They are paying for cheaper papers in an indirect way, just as they are paying for commercial television. The idea that commercial television is free is complete nonsense.
In the book which was quoted by the hon. Member far Twickenham there are some figures for the Beaverbrook Press, and they show that in the year ending June, 1959, 42.1 per cent. of the revenue of the Beaverbrook newspapers came from advertising. In 1960 the proportion went up to 46.87 per cent. This is revenue coming into the whole group, including the Daily Express, the Sunday Express, the Evening Standard and the Glasgow Evening Citizen. That is very nearly half the total revenue of all those newspapers.
I was informed this morning by Dr. Mark Abrams, who is familiar to a number of hon. Members as a great expert in this subject, that he estimates that at present advertising revenue represents 55 per cent. of the total gross revenue of all the Press in this country, national daily papers, provincial dailies, Sunday papers, periodicals and so on. He says that he reckons that the proportion is about the same for the national dailies and for that matter for the Sunday papers, if they are taken on their own. This means that more than half the revenue going into the newspaper which we are discussing and others has come from advertising.
790 The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said that he preferred Lord Beaverbrook and other colourful personalities as owners of newspapers to the faceless men on the boards controlling some of their rivals. If it is a question of faceless men, what about the faceless men controlling the advertising industry, who have such enormous power and about whom, with the exception perhaps of Mr. Varley, hon. Members know very little?
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), who appears quite frequently on the television screen, talked about the price of newspapers and suggested that they were too cheap. I go all the way with him on this. One of the basic facts about the newspaper industry today is that our newspapers are not only very much cheaper than those in almost every part of the developed, industrial civilised world, including Western Europe, but that they are much cheaper than they ought to be. I suppose this goes back to the years immediately after the First World War, when the newspaper proprietors had to decide how they would tackle the rising production costs of those days. They decided to try to keep their costs low through maximising their advertising revenue by going for mass circulations, and ever since then, with the exception of an artificial interruption during the war and immediately after it, when newsprint was rationed, that has been continued.
One must point out, however, that the margin between a successful newspaper and an unsuccessful newspaper, and indeed between spectacular circulation success and spectacular financial success, on the one hand, and ruin, on the other hand, is very narrow. Sometimes not many hundreds of thousands on the circulation can make all the difference in how much advertising revenue a newspaper can attract.
I am well aware that the size of the circulation is not the only factor involved. Indeed, the figures, for example, of what The Times or the Guardian or the Daily Telegraph make per column inch per thousand are very interesting. They are making a very much higher figure in advertising revenue in this respect than are the popular dailies.
The fact remains, however, that it has become virtually impossible for anybody 791 to launch a new newspaper in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North spoke of the optimistic hopes of the Action Committee of the News Chronicle about launching a new daily newspaper about this time next year. I and all my hon. Friends wish them every good fortune in that valiant attempt, but they will find it very difficult indeed. It has become virtually impossible to launch a new national newspaper on the market although, as the hon. Member for Ashford could tell us, it is true that a new Sunday newspaper is coming out in February next year.
Moreover, it has become virtually impossible to run a popular daily newspaper on a moderate circulation. One can run a quality newspaper, such as The Times, the Daily Telegraph or the Guardian, and perhaps that market is now full. It will be interesting to see what happens to the attempt of the Daily Herald to bring itself out of the popular bracket and to move up the intellectual scale. I am delighted to see the transformation which has taken place in the columns of the Daily Herald since Mr. John Beavan took it over — and, incidentally, took over a number of members of the staff of the News Chronicle, too. We shall see what his experience is, although it will not necessarily be generally applicable, because the Daily Herald is linked with a big publishing empire and, although I have no inside information, I guess that the costs of the Daily Herald are being bolstered a bit by the profits made by the People.
Although there may be exceptions to the general rule, it is virtually impossible to maintain a popular newspaper with a moderate circulation, and this means that we are faced with the dilemma which faced Mr. Thomson the other day about the Sunday Graphic—either to close it down or to lower its standards and go for mass circulation. Everybody knows that the most effective way of getting mass circulation is to do what the News of the World did not long ago. If one prints enough salacious pornography, as the News of the World did in the case of Miss Diana Dors and her alleged reminiscences, up goes the circulation. It has become almost impossible to maintain a relatively serious popular newspaper with a moderate circulation.
792 I think that we should look very carefully into the question of the price charged by newspapers to the general public. I was very interested to see in The Times this morning that the two remaining London evening papers—and the fact that there are only two ought to occupy the attention of the Monopolies Commission—are raising their price from 2½d. to 3d. from next Monday. It will be very interesting to see whether the popular daily Press follows suit. I think that the daily newspapers ought to do so, I hope that they will and I think that it is quite likely that they are thinking about it at present.
Another alarming aspect of the growing influence of advertising on the revenue of newspapers is the suspicion that it is beginning to affect the editorial policy and content of newspapers. Here I might mention a point which I mentioned previously this week—that the Advertising Inquiry Committee made some representations to the Molony Committee on Consumer Protection some months ago. In these it said:… it is our opinion that there has been a lowering of standards in some sections of the Press resulting, we believe, from a desire to maintain advertising revenue.It added in the next paragraph:We also draw attention to the growing practice of publishing special supplements, and even editorial matter, specifically designed to attract advertising and of editorial 'puffs' traded for advertising. We believe these to be most undesirable developments and threats not only to the consumer but to the integrity of the Press.This document was referred to the National Union of Journalists, and the union wrote to me not along ago to say that the union, and in particular the Ethics and Public Questions Committee of the National Executive Councilis most concerned over this problem of advertising and continues to give it the closest consideration.I hope that it will.
I turn now to the growing practice—perhaps started and certainly fostered by The Times—of advertising supplements. These are less pernicious than perhaps they might be, because they are generally recognised by the readers, the Press and advertising agents as simply a vehicle for advertising; they are not considered to be editorial matter at all, and same of them are never read. Personally, whenever The Times arrives 793 unusually fat, I search for the supplement, pick it out and throw it in the wastepaper basket.
Some of the popular daily newspapers have now put on a heading drawing attention to the fact that these are advertising supplements. Others have not. Indeed, there is a most disreputable practice growing up which would turn old-fashioned editors in their graves, devoted as they always were to the inflexible rule that they never mixed editorial matter with advertising. There is the growing practice of making advertisements look like editorial matter. On Tuesday there was an advertiser's announcement in the Daily Express—to be fair, there was a statement in small print at the top "Advertisers Announcement"—which was set out to look exactly like the editorial pages of the newspaper. I know that a number of leading newspapermen in Fleet Street think that this is a deplorable way to handle advertising copy.
What is even more deplorable is to canvass potential advertisers by offering them an editorial item in which they might be interested. The worst example which I have come across was referred to the Advertising Inquiry Committee by the N.U.J. It was from a rather ridiculous weekly, though it claims to be a serious newspaper, the City Press. City Press wrote a series of letters, of which I have two, to people in the film industry in July of this year. I quote:On 29th August we are beginning a series of articles on the leading companies producing industrial films. … One feature will be devoted to each film producer reviewing the facilities offered and discussing their impact and future possibilities …Then—and this is the point—… we invite you to take advantage of this excellent publicity opportunity by co-operating with us in publishing an article in this series. We shall require advertising support on these pages.The letter then goes on to give the advertising rates—a full page £150 and half a page £75, and so on.
This deplorable business—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Ashford who is a working journalist deplores it as strongly as I do—is obviously working. I obtained from the Library this morning a copy of this paper. There 794 is an article about prominent names in the sphere of business office equipment and a story about Mr. Harry H. Ross and his firm, and sure enough a quarter-page advertisement next to it advertising the products of Mr. Harry H. Ross. This is a freak journal, but the practice is a racket, and this kind of pressure on editorial columns, particularly in the case of some of the weaker publications, even among national newspapers, is very strong. It was too strong at times for the News Chronicle. One of my colleagues on the Advertising Inquiry Committee will give details to the Molony Committee, if necessary, of how instructions were given to a member of the editorial staff of the News Chronicle to write an editorial piece to get an advertisement in. This is something which needs to be looked at.
It might have been thought that these references to advertising were on the fringes of my hon. Friend's Motion, but the fact is that the financial structure of the industry and the growing power of advertising make it very relevant to the future of the Press. I believe that we now face a profoundly dangerous situation which should be considered. Whether this should be done by a Royal Commission or by an inquiry, I do not know. I am sure that the public ought to be more aware of it than they are at present. It is dangerous to existing newspapers. It is fatal to people who would like to publish new newspapers but realise that if they did they would find it impossible to exist. It is also a threat to the advertisers themselves.
I was very interested in the article—to which I referred in an intervention while my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) was speaking—in the Guardian of 9th November. It analysed the position of the advertisers in the News Chronicle and the extent to which advertising contributed to the demise of that newspaper. This is very dangerous for the advertisers themselves, because by fostering this growing monopolisation of the Press and—here I quote from the article in the Guardian—By allowing the smaller and weaker media to die, advertisers are in effect creating monopolies against themselves. They are working steadily towards a position where mass market advertising is concentrated in a few plump and powerful publications; by so doing they will reduce not only their own bargaining 795 power but the effectiveness of the advertisements themselves, which must compete for attention against a mass of rival advertisements.As I have said, this situation may be dangerous for the advertisers, but I am much less concerned with them than with the general public.
I welcome the Motion and congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing it before us. I very much hope that we shall have a searching examination of the situation, sponsored by the Government.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
This is the second time this week that I have had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) advancing his arguments about the advertising industry. It is a matter in the present context to which the Royal Commission addressed itself, and Chapter 14 of its Report has much to say about some of the arguments which the hon. Member has advanced today.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has, justifiably, in my opinion, taken the opportunity of airing on a Private Member's Motion a matter which has aroused much public disquiet and anxiety. I join with hon. Members in congratulating him on his good fortune in the Ballot. His success is so consistent that he must be considered a menace even to those fruit machines and one-armed bandits which feature in today's newspapers.
My object in intervening at this stage is, while agreeing with much that appears in the Motion, to suggest the difficulties and, to some extent, the undesirability of Government intervention. I shall, quite naturally, refer more than once to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press which appeared as recently as 1949. [HON. MEMBERS: "Recently?"] Recent in the context of Royal Commissions' Reports.
I was interested in these words which appear in paragraph 388 of the Report:The Government, which is always doing things, is obviously more exposed to attack than the Opposition, which is only talking about them.In those days the party opposite was in power, but I refer to those words because I quite understand that in moments of 796 desperation and frustration, as on the present occasion, it is easy to say that the Government should do something but so much less easy to accept the implications and practical effects of what that action might be.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North was fairly accurate in his diagnosis of what the Government's reply might be. I was a little disappointed when he put forward his own remedy and mentioned the case for an inquiry, because I do not think—and this will be in the recollection of hon. Members—that he substantiated that case. It is so easy to say that there should be an inquiry but so much less easy to say what that inquiry would achieve. It is within my recollection that in recent months the Government, and particularly the Home Office, have been accused of taking the easy way out by setting up an inquiry. In this case I should want to be convinced that an inquiry would achieve something more than the Royal Commission was able to achieve only ten years ago.
The event which has given rise to this debate was the closing down of the News Chronicle and the Star. I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would like to be associated with the general feeling of regret that these two newspapers, which served the country so well for so long, should have vanished. Like hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I have read almost everything that has been published on this issue. I have no intention of being drawn into a consideration of the personalities involved, particularly as the family concerned has a great tradition of public benefaction. I read in particular the letter in The Times on 20th October from two members of the Daily News Trust, neither of whom I think can be regarded as Tory reactionaries, but both of whom have established a reputation in the world of economics and business. Speaking for myself, I found it hard to disagree with the explanation put forward in that letter, although I have listened to the alternative explanations put forward in the debate.
It is not possible for me in this debate to go into the economics of these newspapers, but I think that it is generally agreed—I do not think any hon. Members dissented from this—that the News. Chronicle could not have continued as it 797 was. It failed to attract a sufficiently wide audience and it became uneconomic. The result was business failure, not entirely dissimilar from business failures in other walks of life which must take place in a competitive society.
§ Sir Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
It is surely an undoubted fact that no one can say that a newspaper can die beyond recall. All that is needed is a first-rate editor. One of the troubles is that today and for the last few years everything has been passed to the management and not to the editor. If a great editor had been secured for the News Chronicle, within three months it would have been the talk of the country, and it would not have died.
§ Mr. Vosper
That may well be so. I said that I did not want to enter into the reasons for this particular failure. All that I was saying was that, as the newspaper was, it had become an uneconomic proposition. Although it was a business failure with particular implications which have aroused particular public concern, it was nevertheless, a business failure into which in itself there can be no more reason for a public inquiry than an inquiry into any other business failure I appreciate, however, that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North was not asking for an inquiry into this particular event. I am glad that the Motion is sufficiently wide in its terms to enable us to debate, as we have done, the wider question of the apparent tendency towards concentration in the newspaper industry.
The House will not misunderstand me if I say that I am rather less concerned about the actual closing down of these newspapers than about the problem to which this draws attention and to which the second part of the Motion gives expression. There is a fear—I share it—that these closures are symptomatic of a tendency towards monopoly in the Press. It is in accordance with both our tradition and our conception of the democratic way of life that there should be the fullest possible opportunity for the free expression of opinion in an uncontrolled Press. The closure of even two national newspapers must conflict with this concept.
The problem with which the House is largely concerned is whether the principle 798 of a free Press is in danger of being eroded by the concentration of newspaper ownership. On the other hand—my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) made this point—the Press can be free only if it is not subject to any form of Government control. It is an essential feature of government today that the Third and Fourth Estates should to a certain extent be at odds.
It follows, then, that a free Press—this is virtually a quotation from the Royal Commission and not from the Home Office brief—cannot be otherwise than a commercial Press and that it must inevitably be subject to the various pressures and economic difficulties of any business activity. The Press, therefore—I hope that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) will accept this—will have to cope in a highly competitive society.
§ Mr. Driberg
What the hon. Member for Barking was thinking of was the old definition of the freedom of the British Press, which is, perhaps, known to the right hon. Gentleman: "Freedom of the Press in Britain means freedom to publish such of the proprietors' prejudices as the advertisers don't object to".
§ Mr. Vosper
I trust that we may hear from the hon. Member later in the debate.
The publication of a newspaper demands considerable capital. It is the general rule that a large unit is more profitable than a smaller unit, in this part of the business world as in many other parts of it today. We cannot be altogether surprised if there is a tendancy in the newspaper world towards larger chains.
The problem of concentration in the Press was considered by the Royal Commission on the Press. The Commission found that the then degree of concentration, eleven years ago, in the Press as a whole or in any important class of it was not so great as to prejudice the free expression of opinion or to corrupt presentation of views or to be contrary to the best interests of the public. This was the finding of the Royal Commission in its Report in 1949.
The Commission said that newspaper chains were undesirable only if they were so large and so few that they undoubtedly 799 limited the number and variety of the voices speaking to the public through the Press. The Commission further said that the decrease in the number of newspapers had not then been so great as to prejudice public interest but that any further decrease in the number of national newspapers would be a matter for anxiety and that a decrease in the provincial morning newspapers would be a serious loss. I apologise for almost quoting at some length, but it is important to have on record the findings of the Royal Commission.
The closure of the News Chronicle, coupled with the other events to which reference has been made in this debate, gives emphasis to that view and justifies that part of the Motion which refers to the anxiety to which the Royal Commission itself gave expression. We should not, however, let this fact blind us entirely to the much slighter movement in the opposite direction, upon which the Press Council in its most recent report has commented. There are signs, and there has been some evidence, of newspapers starting up. I do not want to over-emphasise that point, because the trend in the other direction is much larger, but it is important, because no other hon. Member has done so, to place it on record. Nor am I trying to belittle the problem of the concentration of newspaper ownership, but it should be acknowledged that the position is not entirely gloomy.
There are, of course, real potential dangers. It has become, as most hon. Members have said, extremely difficult to start a new paper or to continue an existing one unless it has a large circulation and capital reserves. The problem to which I must address myself and to which the last part of the Motion refers is whether there is any action which could properly or effectively be taken by the Government to deal with the situation.
It has been suggested in, possibly, half of the speeches today that some form of a Committee or, perhaps, a new Royal Commission should be set up. I am a little disappointed to find little substantiation of what such a committee of inquiry could achieve which has not already been explained either by the Royal Commission or in the debate 800 today. Presumably, any committee of inquiry could have two inter-related functions. The first would be to attempt to uncover relevant facts not contained in the Report of the last Royal Commission. That Report was a very full one and although there may now be considerable variation in points of detail, I doubt whether any new facts of particular significance would emerge.
§ Mr. Vosper
Commercial television is a case in point, but no speaker in this debate has put that forward as a new factor that would determine the effect of a Royal Commission or a committee sitting today.
The second function, and possibly, the more important one, would be to recommend legislation or other remedies which would lead to a change in the present situation. It is difficult to see what, if anything, could be proposed. Hon. Members who are familiar with the Royal Commission's Report will recognise that with two possible exceptions, the Commission firmly came to the conclusion that there was no possible reform which could be undertaken. That was in 1949. Despite recent developments, despite the advent of commercial television, it is difficult to find any reason for believing that any other Commission or committee of inquiry could today come to a different conclusion.
We must accept that free enterprise is a prerequisite of a free Press. That, again, comes from the Report of the Royal Commission. It follows from this that the Press, or any section of it, can survive only as a commercial profitable enterprise. So long as nothing is done which conflicts with general legislation on restrictive or monopolistic practices, Government intervention in a commercial process presents obvious difficulties. Positive action in the form of establishing or subsidising newspapers is entirely undesirable, although I believe that the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), whose speech I am sorry I missed, advocated this. I should have thought, however, that this was so self-evident and universally unexceptionable that it is almost otiose to say it. Compulsion, on the other hand, in the establishment of a new newspaper, even if 801 that were practicable, would be a clear case of interference with the freedom of the Press.
I referred earlier to the possible exceptions to which the Royal Commission referred when it said that it could make no recommendations for action. The Commission referred to the setting up of a Press Council and amongst the specific tasks which the Commission suggested that the Council should undertake wasto study developments in the Press which may tend towards greater concentration or monopoly".A Press Council has, in fact, been set up—
§ Mr. Vosper
I appreciate that its constitution was somewhat different from that proposed, but the task to which the Commission referred was included in its terms of reference. If there is at the present time evidence to suggest that there is an excessive concentration in Press ownership it would be perfectly open to the Press Council to investigate the facts and to make any recommendations which it saw fit. It is important to make this point because the Press Council has already commented upon the failure of these two newspapers and it remains to be seen whether the Council decides to institute a wider inquiry.
The other possibility to which the Royal Commission referred and which again has featured in this debate was the Monopolies Commission. In an Answer to a Question on 22nd November my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said that the President of the Board of Trade would not refer to the Monopolies Commission the fact that there were now only two London evening newspapers. This is, as hon. Members must know, in the terms of the Act within his discretion. I, for my part, find it a little difficult to see how a reference to the Monopolies Commission would lead to a revival of a liberal newspaper, which is the desire of the hon. Member who moved this Motion and his supporters.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North also put, as his second suggestion, some legislation on the lines of the American anti-trust legislation, which, of course, has much wider implications 802 than this debate. My limited researches do not lead me to believe that this particular legislation has been used to any extent, if at all, in respect of newspapers in America.
We are faced with the problem that the over-concentration of Press ownership concerns the whole fabric of a democratic society and leads us to somewhat deeper reflections than can possibly be given in a debate today. Because of the importance of the problem there is this danger, that remedies will be sought which are themselves worse than the ills which they purport to cure, and some suggestions made today would, I believe, have that effect. That is why I suggest that it is so easy to suggest action without fully considering the implications of that action.
The plain fact of the matter, I think all hon. Members will agree, is that we welcome a free Press without being prepared to accept the inevitable difficulties to which the existence of a free Press gives rise. In my view, it is very hard to see any other conclusion than that, if the present state of affairs is contrary to our tradition and to our democratic way of life, the answer lies both with the public, which much more actively support new publications, and with the Press, which must avoid any tendency towards monolithic uniformity in the expression of views. If there is a case for new papers, and hon. Members have said there is, then the public must create the demand, and it is at least good to know that the circulation of what are known as the quality papers is increasing at present—a point to which, I think, no other hon. Member has so far drawn attention.
§ Mr. Vosper
I am sorry. I am glad hon. Members have, because I think it is a good feature that in what is known as an affluent society there is increasing support for the quality papers, both daily and Sunday.
This debate has in fact been a form of inquiry and will, I am certain, serve a useful purpose, and it follows automatically that the Government will examine what has been said, but it is very difficult for me to see, in the light of what has been said so far, what purpose an inquiry could achieve. As my 803 hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, an inquiry of some duration could in fact delay and blanket consideration of this problem to which the industry itself should devote its attention.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Why does the right hon. Gentleman leave it to the industry to do it when the industry refuses to do it? Is he not aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and I asked the Press Council in a letter to investigate the tendency towards monopoly as illustrated by the death of these two newspapers and that what the Press Council did was to say to us that it regretted those deaths? That was all. It makes no investigation: it makes a pious expression of regret. That is not an inquiry. It is an evasion.
§ Mr. Vosper
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will read the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, which, I think, he missed.
§ Mr. Vosper
I am sorry, but I think that it may well be that following this debate something on those lines may well happen, but I say again, to repeat what I have already said, that I find it difficult to see what the committee of inquiry could achieve which the Royal Commission itself did not in its Report ten years ago.
§ Mr. Donnelly
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would consider it desirable if the Press Council did institute a proper inquiry?
§ Mr. Vosper
The hon. Member knows that the Government have never made any comment on the activities of the Press Council. I merely say that it is open to the Press Council to do so, and that following this debate that action could well happen, or on the lines advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford in his speech. Something may happen, but, generally speaking, the line that the Government take is that taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that this is a case where public demand and public opinion must make itself felt if they are to have the papers they wish to have.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
A famous Prime Minister once added to his fame with the phrase "Wait and see". The Minister of State, Home Office, deserves to be known in history by the phrase, "Something may happen". Having listened throughout the day to a series of extremely well-informed speeches from both sides of the House, the right hon. Gentleman summarises the entire policy of the Government in three words—"Something may happen". The right hon. Gentleman's refusal to allow an inquiry will disappoint not only my hon. Friends, but the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who made a most interesting contribution, and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who seemed in favour of an inquiry.
The only positive suggestion in the Minister's speech was that the Press Council, he hinted, might make an inquiry into monopoly, but all day the right hon. Gentleman must have been listening to criticisms of the Press Council by hon. Members that it was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) said, prosecutor, defendant, judge and jury, and that it failed to embody the view of the Royal Commission, which said that there should be lay members of the Press Council. The fact that the Minister could confine his constructive comments to the one suggestion that the Press Council might make an investigation, when he said himself, quite wrongly, that any investigation was doomed to failure in any case, seems to me a most extraordinary commentary on the Government's attitude in this case.
Like the Minister, I shall not go in detail into the case of the News Chronicle and the Star. The murder of these papers has been very well described in detail by a number of speakers, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), whom I am sure we all congratulate on introducing the subject so well, by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, and by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). They have described in detail the secret, stealthy and sudden demise of these papers—secret, stealthy and sudden, like all well-planned assassinations. The 805 only defence put up from the other side of the House was that secrecy was necessary in the interests of the employees.
There is another side of the case which no one has mentioned yet, and that is the point of view of the reader of the News Chronicle in whose interest all this was planned, namely, that he should have no inkling before the very morning that he was not to have the News Chronicle he ordered, but another paper that he did not order at all. That was the object of all the secrecy.
I happen to have two close relatives who gave up the Daily Mail in June because they could not bear its treatment of the Royal matrimonial business. They gave it up in disgust and took to the News Chronicle. Then, on that morning, they were given the Daily Mail whether they ordered it or not and, contrary to their express wishes, as a result of the secrecy which is being defended by hon. Members opposite. I say that this is no proper excuse. The interests of the readers and of the community must be considered as well as the convenience and the interests of the Daily News Ltd. and the Daily Mail and those concerned.
I wish, however, to deal with the wider implications of the subject, and, in particular, the fact that taking the last decade as a whole we have been having more and more copies of fewer and fewer papers. The Minister said that the Royal Commission reported "as recently as 1949," but let us look at what has happened since 1949. There has not only been the advent of commercial television, as my hon. Friends were saying, and not only the death of the News Chronicle, the Star and the Empire News and the coming death of the Sunday Graphic, but the death of 13 other daily newspapers, two national Sunday papers, one provincial Sunday paper, 33 provincial weeklies, and 40 national magazines. That is all since the Royal Commission reported "as recently as 1949".
Mr. Francis Williams, who is perhaps as well informed as anybody and writes regularly, and with extremely good information on this subject, points out that four out of five copies of every national morning newspaper are controlled by one of three men—Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Rothermere, or Mr. 806 Cecil King. This is paralleled, as other hon. Members have pointed out, by the increasing concentration, such as the buying up of the Amalgamated Press by the Mirror-Pictorial group, Hulton's and Newnes by Odhams Press and, finally the News Chronicle and Star by Associated Newspapers.
As speaker after speaker has told the Minister, the Royal Commission reported at that time that any further concentration and closing down of newspapers would create a serious situation. It said that any further decrease in the number of national newspapers would be a matter for anxiety. It said that a decrease in the number of provincial morning newspapers would be a serious loss. The Royal Commission at that time was looking forward to new launchings of papers as a result of increasing supplies of newsprint.
The whole situation has vastly changed, and the problem has become enormously more serious since the Royal Commission reported. Only last week we had the news of the coming closing down of the Sunday Graphic and of the coming buying up of the Belfast Telegraph, another local paper. If we look abroad, we find that this country, in comparison with other countries, is most outstanding because of its large number of people reading such a small number of different newspapers. Of course, the United States, because of its great size, is bound to have more newspapers per head than we do. All the same, it is worth noting that, with only three times our population, it has eighteen times our number of newspapers.
I am not sure that I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) when he suggested, in his otherwise excellent speech, that the American Press was less free than ours. It is a very debatable matter whether its eighteen times greater number of newspapers in the United States, with their considerable variety and strong local ties, does not entitle it to be considered at least as free as, if not freer than, the newspapers in this country.
Our readership over recent decades has trebled. Yet never before this century have we had so few newspapers—dailies or weeklies. It has meant less variety of style, less variety of political 807 opinion and more and more control over our sources of information in fewer and fewer hands. The Government regard this with complete complacency. The Minister's speech was not only utterly sterile, but completely complacent. No one is asking for Government interference with the Press. That is not the issue. We could teach lessons to the Conservative Party on the subject of Government interference with the Press. That is not at issue today. What is at issue is whether the Government admit responsibility for ensuring that the conditions for a free Press exist. We on this side of the House consider that the Government have this responsibility, and I should have liked the Minister to say whether he felt that the Government had that responsibility or not.
It is worth noticing that the Government accept responsibility in this matter in broadcasting. They legislate in order to create the conditions in which broadcasting can be fair and free. They decide how broadcasting companies are to be selected. They lay down in Statute proper standards for broadcasting. They decide how a fair balance and political impartiality can be achieved for broadcasting. They lay down regulations as to how advertising is to be kept in its place and prevented from influencing editorial matter.
It may be argued that there are fewer wavelengths than newspapers, but that will not be so for very long if the present trends continue. I have been as critical as anyone of the principle that television should be run commercially by big business, and of the inadequate way in which the legislation was carried through and is being administered. But I will at least say this for commercial television; the tycoons did acquire their interests under conditions approved by Parliament. There were, and are, proper restrictions on their power and control. They cannot, for example, buy up a new television station and operate it in the interests of a political party.
From that point of view, the Government have shown that they recognise their responsibility for creating a situation in which broadcasting can operate fairly and freely.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to say 808 what conditions he feels that the Government could lay down which would be capable of seriously affecting consumer—that is, readership—choice in the case of newspapers?
§ Mr. Mayhew
That is precisely the question for which it would be worth having an inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State asked what good an inquiry would do. But these things should be thrashed out for the future. Things are getting worse and a crisis is approaching. This is the kind of problem which should be investigated. Compared with the way in which the Press is organised and controlled, broadcasting in this country is a miracle of fairness and freedom.
Newspaper tycoons can buy and control provincial and national newspapers and change their political standards. Is it more democratic to accept responsibility for creating conditions for free broadcasting and a free television, or to stand aside, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, and let two or three exceptionally powerful individuals dictate what newspapers of What political complexion we should read?
In what sense is it freedom to allow a millionaire, however well intentioned, to buy up or assist in the assassination of anti-Conservative newspapers? The suspicion arises that if the boot were on the other foot the attitude of hon. Members opposite might be different. If we had Socialist millionaires making bids for the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, their policy towards intervention might change.
My hon. Friends have made the point that freedom of the Press is not only different from freedom for millionaires to buy up and control newspapers, but is, in many respects, antagonistic to it. Freedom of the Press entails the freedom of the reader to have several choices of newspaper; freedom of the journalist to write without "angling" by his subeditors and editors; freedom of the editor from the whims of proprietors; and freedom of the proprietors from undue pressure from advertisers.
Mr. James Cameron, a distinguished and successful contributor to the News Chronicle, summed up the situation about the dilemma we face by saying:To be free, a newspaper must be a commercial success; and to be a commercial 809 success it must surrender to business interests that will necessarily destroy its freedom.Again, I hoped that this proposed inquiry would have looked at the whole relationships between the Press and television. This is raised by the continued holding, by the Daily News Ltd. of 21 per cent. of the shares in Tyne-Tees Television. We are faced, first, with the question whether the Press should be tied up with commercial television at all.
I recall the criticism when the first contracts were granted by the Independent Television Authority—criticism voiced especially strongly by the Daily Telegraph—that when we had two powerful empires like the Press and television, two empires quite powerful enough by themselves, it was folly to link them together, and that it was vital that they should stand independently of each other, vigilantly watching each other's activities.
To take a phrase of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), he said that the Third Estate and the Fourth Estate had between them a relationship not of sympathy, but an antipathy, and that this Press-and-Parliament relationship was healthy. I rather agreed with him and I wish the same relationship could exist between the Press, on the one hand, and television, on the other, so that they could watch each other vigilantly and criticise each other independently. Instead, by a direct policy decision of I.T.A., they are quite literally in each other's pockets, and I consider that that is an extremely bad thing for both parties.
I noticed in this morning's newspapers that a Viewers' and Listeners' Association has been founded to promote public service broadcasting. I have not carefully read all the morning newspapers. but those which I have read, and which have no financial interest in commercial television, have reported the foundation of that society, while all those that I have read which have a financial interest in commercial television have somehow failed to report it. The fact is that the whole controversy of the future of television and radio, which is a tremendously important controversy for our political life, has been largely distorted by the deliberate action of 810 the Authority, which tied up the Press with television interests.
I cannot help quoting one of the newspapers with the largest commercial interest in television, one of the most faithful supporters of I.T.V., the Daily Mirror and Pictorial group, which editorially supports the proposition that the third television channel should go to I.T.V.—of course, wholly disinterestedly. I cannot help quoting from a recent Daily Mirror pamphlet, which said:Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers along with many others were interested in the prospects of commercial television in the early days but did not offer for a contract when it came to the point. The Express papers have since been heavily committed to an uncompromising and rancorous policy of proving, often at great cost to their resources of ingenuity, that commercial television does not work. If the Express group did go into television there would at any rate be an interesting exhibition of editorial back-peddling.There is some truth in that, but it is most interesting that the charge of being an interested party should be made by the Daily Mirror and Pictorial group. I cannot help thinking that the I.T.A. policy of tying the Press and television together has made the Press into a gigantic vested interest, one way or another, in the future of television. Even if we accept that there should be this tie-up, it should be a politically impartial tie-up and all types of newspapers should be given their footing in television, yet there is no sign of that happening with I.T.A. Reynolds News was squeezed out as a contractor and now the News Chronicle has gone.
It seems sheer administrative incompetence that a licence should have been granted to the Daily News Ltd. because it controlled the News Chronicle and the Star without there being any proviso that the Daily News Ltd. should go on owning the News Chronicle and Star as a condition of its having its television holding. I was glad that the Home Secretary said:… one cannot get away from the fact that when this contract was made this condition was not laid down, which might have been a very good thing,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 1308.]It certainly should have been. The contract was given to the Daily News Ltd. because the News Chronicle and the Star were newspapers.
811 Indeed, it was said at the time, in reply to those critics like myself who argued that commercial television would ruin the weaker newspapers, that, in fact, it would shelter them, because they would be given shares in the new and great commercial venture. In that way, newspapers which were damaged by commercial advertising would recoup themselves from their television shareholdings. However, let us consider what has happened in the case of the News Chronicle and Star. That television holding was not retained by Daily News Ltd. when it got rid of the News Chronicle and Star.
It would be worth asking I.T.A. what contribution the Daily News Ltd. is now making to the future of television in the North. What use is being made of the great expertness of the individuals concerned in all forms of cocoa processing, and so on? Is that very helpful to the future of television in the North? This matter is scandalous and it should be cleared up, and the Daily News Ltd. should be asked to surrender its holding.
I come now to the question of advertising, raised, as usual, and with his usual effectiveness, by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker). I would hope that this inquiry for which my hon. Friend is asking would go carefully into the impact of advertising on the financial structure of the newspapers and on their editorial content.
I think that this kind of inquiry would show that the advertising agencies must share the guilt for the murder of the News Chronicle and Star. The News Chronicle and the Star did not please the agencies, and the hon. Member for Twickenham gave the evidence for this belief. He said that the News Chronicle and the Star had the most appalling failings. They were read, I think he said, by elderly country clergymen, and by people who could not be expected to be influenced by advertising. This is the most terrible attack that can be made on anyone, that he should not be influenced by advertising.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Let me take the hon. Gentleman further. It is true that the News Chronicle was read by a large number of people—1 million people—who found The Times and the Guardian 812 perhaps a little too serious and too solid, and the Express and the Mirror too trivial and too untruthful. That is so. It may be that they were, on average, slightly older than the readers of the Mirror. It may be that some of them were country clergymen and people who were finding it hard to make both ends meet. It may be that fewer of them were women, and therefore, on the whole, less likely to spend money on the advertised products. But why should they be less worthy of consideration for those reasons? Why should they not be allowed to have the newspaper they want? The answer is that they do not please the advertisers. Is this the way to run the Press in a democratic country?
Everything depends on whether one pleases the advertising agencies. This is scandalous, and the hon. Gentleman who was trying to defend advertising agencies condemned them out of his own mouth. I hope that an inquiry such as I am suggesting will go into some of these things. I am sure that it would show that advertising does distort and does, on the whole, have a harmful influence on our newspapers. It would show, as in television, that the impact of advertising is to squeeze out those programmes which appeal to people because they have a particular interest in something, or a particular point of view, or a particular characteristic.
In the same way one gets a strong feeling that the influence of advertising on newspapers is to push out all newspapers, between The Times and the Guardian, on the one side, and the Mirror and the Express, on the other. This is serious. I think that we must have a Press which, to the maximum possible extent, gives the readers the kind of paper which suits them and which they want.
This inquiry must also look into the question of newsprint. Here again, it is difficult to argue, because we do not know the facts. The Minister said that all the facts were known. Perhaps he will tell me whether there is a monopoly element in the price of £58 10s. per ton for newsprint. It will be interesting to know whether the holdings of the big newspaper combines in the newsprint industry have an effect on the price and make it more difficult and more expensive for the weaker and smaller papers 813 to get their supplies of newsprint. This would be a good thing into which to inquire. Why do the Government want to hide it? Why does the Minister not want an inquiry? Everybody is interested in this. The facts are not known, and they should be brought out.
I come now to the point which has been mentioned by many hon. Members, the unions. I hope that hon. Gentlemen who criticised the unions will join us in voting for this inquiry. It is not we who stand in the way of an inquiry into these matters: it is the Minister. Only this morning I spoke to the general secretary of the London Typographical Association. He said, "We would welcome an inquiry into all these matters. Let us have it. We would like the truth to be known." It is the Minister who is holding up the inquiry. The hon. Member for Twickenham ought to be directing his fire in a different direction.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Mr. Speaker has not allowed the Amendment to the Motion in which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. Johnson) and myself are interested. The Motion talks about a general inquiry into a monopolistic trend.
§ Mr. Mayhew
We are not standing in the way of a wide inquiry, including one into these practices. I would go so far as to say that, although many of these charges are unfair, there is evidence that some of the unions have caught some of the monopolistic habits of some of the employers. I should not be against the inquiry going into this. I think that most of the unions would agree that it might be in their best interests to make clear their good name and to ensure, what must always be a matter of anxiety to them, that they do not price themselves out of jobs.
Such an inquiry should also look into other forms of newspaper ownership than the commercial one about which we have been talking. It should carefully consider the work done and the progress made by newspaper trusts. All the time the Minister has been saying that this is just a business failure. He said that this is what happens in private enterprise, but that is not the view of quite a large number of people in the newspaper industry. The whole conception 814 of the trust is that there are other considerations besides making money in running a newspaper. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford put it extremely well. He said that these newspapers are held in trust for the nation. That is the right approach. These trusts say that there is also the question of the rights of the community, the principle and practice of free discussion and the history of freedom in this country to be considered.
The Government take what we might call the old laissez faire line about this, as they do about so many other things. They say, "Let the businessmen pursue their own interest in this matter and all will be for the best. Then, in the same way as we get dynamic increases in industrial production and a healthy balance of payments, we shall get a free Press." That is the main line the Government take, but, in practice, it does not work that way at all.
We say to the Government that they must accept the principle that they are responsible for ensuring the conditions of freedom for the national Press. I should have thought as a result of this debate a tremendously strong case has been made for holding this inquiry. There is much which is still not known. The Report of the Royal Commission is wholly out of date and a great deal has happened since it reported. I am sure that if the Report is read carefully one will be led inevitably to the conclusion that the Commission itself would have recommended a new inquiry if it had known the situation of today. The Press itself is too silent on some of these matters for various reasons. The Government have a duty to set up the inquiry. We ask the Minister why the public should be denied the facts in these matters.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
We all, those on this side of the House included, welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) in introducing this subject for today's debate even though, perhaps, we see the problem from different aspects than hon. Members opposite.
I am particularly anxious to obey your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and not to mention the ominous words in the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the 815 Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and myself. However, the trend of the debate in general, as I think has been accepted by you, has shown that costs in general in the newspaper industry are particularly relevant to the case of the News Chronicle and relevant to the subject of the debate. I hope, therefore, I shall not transgress your Ruling if I deal with them in a general manner.
I have to declare an interest in this debate, even if a somewhat indirect interest, inasmuch as I happen to be the publishes of the book which has already been mentioned during the debate. I can assure the House that I am quite free from any collusion with the hon. Member who introduced the subject which this books covers, and it can hardly be said that I am advertising it, for the authors have already sent free copies of it to all hon. Members.
The main emphasis in this book, as is freely admitted, is on the costs of the News Chronicle, with particular emphasis on the cost of labour. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who, I am sorry to say, had to leave the debate, said with rather surprising bitterness, I thought, that the workers are always attacked. Far from the workers being persistently attacked, as publisher of this book I am bound to say that one has found the greatest difficulty in getting the point of view of the labour costs ventilated. In fact, it has been a most interesting experience in putting forward this publication.
It has been rather like publishing a banned book, because, on the one hand, we have had an enormous number of interested people up and down Fleet Street, in the Fleet Street bookshops, or from the newspaper offices, and so forth—this immense furore behind the scenes—and, on the other, superficial evidence from the dearth of notices which appeared in the Press makes this almost the book that never was. It was mentioned in two inches in the Daily Telegraph, which did not even pay my firm the compliment of mentioning us as publishers, as is customary in these affairs, and nothing else in Fleet Street, as contrasted with what can be considered the very fair treatment it received throughout the provincial papers. I emphasise that the principal provincial 816 paper, including the Guardian, gave it extremely fair treatment.
I am by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, denied the opportunity of giving the details of the more sordid facts from which editors felt that their readers should be protected, but the basic thing about the book was the estimated costing of the News Chronicle, costing which claimed that the weekly wage bill of the News Chronicle immediately prior to its ceasing publication was £75,000, whereas a proper economic wage bill should have been less than £50,000. I was intrigued, however, by one piece of information already mentioned in the debate, namely, the fact that in the News Chronicle office there had to be a member of the E.T.U. in action before an electric light bulb could be changed. Perhaps that could be challenged; we do not know, but, at any rate, it is an intriguing piece of information.
My knowledge of these problems is only indirect, but, naturally, I come into contact with them to some extent as a book publisher, and I felt when I put this book on the market that I knew enough about it to decide that the authors had a case which should be expressed. I had, moreover, a hunch that they had justice on their side, even though perhaps, here and there, details might be challenged.
My hunch came home in a paragraph in the Observer of last Sunday, which many hon. Members will have seen. It was consequent on the claims put forward by hon. Members opposite and, in particular, by the hon. Member for Bristol, South, claiming the high cost of newsprint as the biggest single item of cost. The T.U.C. has made that claim, and has asked for an inquiry into newsprint costs. The Observer said:In fact, to take our own case, salaries and wages still exceed the Observer's newsprint bill.Following this, I wrote to the managers of the main national papers asking for their relative costs of salaries and labour, and newsprint, and I have here a sheaf of replies. I choose the first because it is the only one of its kind. It says that in this particular case the cost of paper is higher than that of salaries because they have a newspaper that has more than the average number of pages. I received the second reply by telephone from the 817 manager of a daily newspaper, who said that the wage bill was more than that for newsprint.
The third reply reads:In reply to your query, wages represent 39 per cent. of our total costs, and ink and paper represent 34. per cent. of our total costs.The fourth reply says:At the present time, salaries and wages are a bigger item than newsprint but by a very small margin, and this position can easily be changed by a variation in pages.The next reply was of a more general kind:Newspaper experts from abroad are always amazed at the serious overmanning of newspapers here"—as has been pointed out today by other hon. Members—and the exceptionally large labour costs, which are half as large again as newsprint.A further comment says:Detailed analysis shows that in the newspaper industry today two men do the same amount of work that one man did in 1939. Higher labour costs mean that journalism is being reduced to a few giant's. Expert studies show that in comparable production newspaper offices in the United States require 600 men, in Germany, 540, and in a provincial office in Britain, 1,100.I can fairly claim that those comparisons of labour costs and newsprint costs come straight from the horse's mouth, even though the T.U.C. claims that the cost of newsprint is the highest single cost item in the industry. I have interested myself in this matter because of the small corner of the picture that I see as a book publisher. I am not exactly a recent entrant into this argument, inasmuch as I drew attention to this question of wages in the printing industry in my maiden speech, five years ago.
It is time, in their own interests, that the matter of labour costs was fairly and squarely considered, not only by the management side but by the trade union side, to see whether they can co-operate to a greater degree not only in the ordinary running, but in the introduction of new methods such as my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) discussed in connection with the Guardian, so that we can have this important element considered. Of course, no one pretends that it is the only matter which should be inquired into, but I think that it is an important 818 element and that it is in the interests of everybody that it should be considered as a large factor in the situation.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The same tendency is at work in the newspaper industry as in all other industries under our system of private ownership. The big boys oust the little fellows and the not-so-little fellows.
It is a remarkable thing that competition is leading to the ending of competition and to the growth of monopoly. In the chemical industry I.C.I. now monopolises most spheres of production. In the motor-car industry there are four combines, two British and two American, dominating the scene. But I suggest that the position is far more serious in the newspaper industry. While we might not like all having to buy the same model of motor car, it would be terrifying if all our ideas had to be on the same pattern. The tendency to concentrate power in a few hands means restricting access to news and thereby the free formation of views.
As has been pointed out in this debate, three newspapers, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror, account for 12 million out of 16 million of the papers every morning. It might have been added that in addition, two giant combines, thanks to take-oven, now control 90 per cent. of our popular weekly and monthly magazines. It might further be mentioned that the two London evening newspapers, both Conservative, having wiped out the third evening newspaper, a Liberal newspaper, are now to raise their price by ½d. One or two hon. Members seem to think that is a good thing, but personally I think it stinks. It seems to me to be a very poor argument to use. Closure of the newspapers is bad for the newspaper worker and for the reader.
The three groups that I have mentioned, plus Thomsons and Odhams, now control the British Press. Indirectly, they control public opinion. These groups need enormous capital and wealth to control such presses. Although I am not suggesting that the directors are any better or worse morally than the rest of us, I do say that they must be biased in favour of a society which gives them such a favoured economic position. They are the natural opponents of the 819 Labour, trade union and Co-operative movements, and the natural opponents of new ideas which to them appear dangerous. In other words, I am arguing that the shrinking number of newspapers increases the opportunity to restrict the free supply of news on controversial subjects. I am coming to one dominating case in a moment.
§ Sir B. Baxter
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. We find ourselves completely in agreement with him, but we are hoping that in a few moments he will be able to offer some solution to the present system.
§ Mr. Allaun
I shall come to that if I can possibly reach it in time.
I want to deal with the major issue facing us, but first with a more lighthearted one. I expect that you, Mr. Speaker, have never heard of the Eel Pie Island Club, and I expect that most august Members of this House have never heard of it either. But to many young people it is a very important institution. It is a jazz club with 8,000 members and 100,000 adherents. Mr. Acker Bilk, Mr. Humphrey Lyttelton and other eminent gentlemen play there. Some time ago the Keystone Press, which is a very important photographic agency, approached this club and asked for permission to take pictures there. This is a private club but the organisers gave their permission, provided they were shown the photographs before they were used.
The photographer arrived and took his photographs, and for three weeks nothing happened. Then the members of this club read a paper called the Weekend Mail, published by the Daily Mail Group of Associated Newspapers, with 3 million circulation and 9 million readers—though probably not read by many Members of this House. Three pages were devoted to this subject. It was headed "Down among the dead beats". The pictures showed several of these young ladies in extraordinary trousers, and they also showed a bit of "necking" going on. The pictures had been carefully selected. One of these young ladies was dismissed from her job as a result of this publication: two others were spoken to severely by their employers. These young people are reporting this to the Press Council. They 820 are, however, a little sceptical of any results being achieved because the chairman of the Press Council is the chief leader writer of the Daily Mail, which is in the group which published this paper. In other words, the guilty men themselves are sitting on the Press Council.
I turn to a more serious matter. The question which dominates our age is whether mankind can survive in a world threatened by nuclear weapons. How has the Press dealt with this overriding question? It did so at first in a reasonably tolerant manner. There was a fairly friendly, indulgent attitude, because people who said that Britain should give a lead unilaterally against the bomb were regarded as a handful of eccentrics.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Does my hon. Friend remember that, before this, the subject was almost totally ignored?
§ Mr. Allaun
That is perfectly true. The Times devoted not a word to this point on the opening night when four mass meetings were held in Central London in February, 1958. I am dealing with the question of opposition to continuing with the policy of having the H-bomb. By the summer of this year the attitude of the Press, almost without exception, had changed, because it was becoming clear that this policy might become the dominant policy inside the Labour Party. The attitude of our rulers, of the Establishment, changed overnight.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must ask the hon. Member to relate what he is saying to the Motion. I shall be obliged if he will do so.
§ Mr. Allaun
My argument is that, because of the shrinking number of newspapers, access to important facts is being prevented, and I wish to give one or two examples. Today, every newspaper with over 100,000 circulation opposes the decision of the Labour Party conference and those who uphold it.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
Will my hon. Friend tell me whether he has accepted the decisions of the Labour Party conference prior to the last annual conference?
§ Mr. Allaun
Let me give an example. The Guardian reported on 27th October, very properly giving it pride of place on the front page, the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers, 650,000 strong, which had previously opposed this point of view, had decided that a resolution from its Midland Region, asking for the removal of all American bases from this country, should be sent to all miners' M.P.s. Hon Members will agree that this is important news, but the great mass of the British public are quite unaware of it, because the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Herald, the Daily Sketch and many other newspapers have not printed a word of it.
I will give another instance. The executive of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, a large union which voted both ways at Scarborough, has since decided by twelve votes to nil that it should support the Scarborough conference decision on defence. Here again, the Press has not printed this news. I am suggesting that the British public is being taken for a ride, because only half of the important news is being carried. Consider the treatment of Frank Cousins, notably by the Daily Express. Frank Cousins is being built up into a bogyman, as public enemy No. 1. On 16th October the Daily Express devoted a large part of its front page to researches into his son's job at an atomic energy plant. It even printed interviews with the young man's landlady and details of his young wife. As a journalist, I think that that is a disgusting and disgraceful way of going about things.
In this and other instances there is taking place in the country today the "editionising" of news. News which suits the Press proprietors is played up through every edition. If it is news which they have to print because of local pressure but which is unfavourable to them, they print it only in one area. For instance, if the delegates of the 822 Labour Party and Trades Council in Liverpool, by an overwhelming majority, take a certain attitude on the bomb, as they have done, the national newspapers will print that in their Liverpool edition but not outside.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for a solution to this problem. I believe that within a society dominated by big business it is almost certain that the Press too will also be dominated by big business. I see very little hope of a complete solution within our existing society. I believe that the best immediate methods are exposure of this situation by members of the National Union of Journalists—and I am one of them. They have a code of ethics. Penalties can be imposed, such as fines or even expulsion from the union. I also believe in exposure of the situation by newspaper readers who are alert and who will point out to their fellow citizens contradictions in the newspapers. Thirdly, I believe in exposure by the Press Council, particularly if there were sitting on it, as there are not at present, representatives of the lay public.
I believe that the experience of men's lives is, fortunately, stronger than any Press propaganda and I am therefore quite confident of the outcome. I believe that the Press lords can delay progress but that they cannot prevent it.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House regrets the closure of the News Chronicle and Star newspapers and the methods by which it was effected; expresses anxiety at the increasing concentration of newspapers in fewer hands; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into the Press with particular reference to the monopolistic trend and its social implications.