HC Deb 27 October 1960 vol 627 cc2572-5
30. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will refer to the attention of the Monopolies Commission the present situation in the newspaper industry.

38. Mr. Driberg

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the warning given by the Royal Commission on the Press, 1949, that a further concentration of newspaper ownership would be undesirable, he will consider asking the Monopolies Commission to investigate present trends towards Press monopoly, with particular reference to the closure of the News Chronicle, the Star, and the Empire News, and the links between certain newspaper groups and commercial television.

Mr. J. Rodgers

Whatever view may be taken of recent events, there is no situation existing in relation to the national daily newspapers which falls within the scope of the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Thomson

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread public anxiety about the circumstances surrounding the closure of the News Chronicle, the Star and the Sunday Empire News and there is considerable hardship among workers in this industry? Is he also aware that there is a danger of further newspaper closures and that one of the specific recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Press was that if there were any further decrease in the number of national newspapers it ought to be a cause for anxiety on the part of the Government? If the Monopolies Commission is not a suitable body for dealing with this, will the Government consider setting up some other form of inquiry?

Mr. Rodgers

It is always sad when any of these newspapers, national or local, goes under, but it is not a subject for the Monopolies Commission at all. Regarding the hon. Gentleman's references to the Royal Commission on the Press and its Report, I think that is more in regard to the local than the national Press.

Hon. Members


Mr. Driberg

I am sorry, the Minister is quite wrong; I hope he will study his brief properly and look at paragraph 313 of the Report of the Royal Commission which refers only to national morning newspapers and says that a reduction in their number would not be contemplated without anxiety. Is he aware that the Royal Commission had the job of inquiring into monopolistic tendencies of the Press, which is also the job of the Monopolies Commission, surely, or it ought to be? Can he look at this again?

Mr. Rodgers

I was not inadequately briefed and I actually had in front of me paragraph 313 Which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman. He might also have quoted paragraphs 606, 607 and 608, Which bear out what I said, that it is more concerned with the local than with the national Press.

Mr. Jay

In view of the Government's great passion for decentralisation and public accountability in other spheres, are they really happy about what is going on in the newspaper industry?

Mr. Rodgers

That is always of great public concern.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In view of the fact that eleven years have passed since the Royal Commission expressed alarm about the tendencies expressed or indicated in Question No. 38, does not the Minister think it is time something was done to stop this headlong careering towards totalitarianism? Is it not a public danger which should be dealt with immediately?

Mr. Rodgers

I cannot accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's description of what is happening as a headlong flight into totalitarianism.

Mr. Wilkins

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this matter? Recognising that newspapers, directly or indirectly, affect the opinions of people in this country, is not it a dangerous trend that we should be going headlong towards what will be a Press dictatorship unless we are careful? Would not the hon. Gentleman think about this again and have an inquiry made into the circumstances of what has been taking place?

Mr. Thorpe

Would not the Minister consider whether there has not been a case within the meaning of Section 3 (2) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act, 1948, whereby two people have deliberately restricted the supply of newspapers in this country—one by a straightforward commercial enterprise and the other one I will not mention—whereby there are now only two evening newspapers left in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, in London."]—there are now only two national evening newspapers left in this country, or in the London area?

Will he bear in mind that Section 3 refers to goods restricted as to one-third being in the hands of two people? We are now faced with 50 per cent. of the London evening newspapers being in the hands of two people. Surely this is a case for reference under Section 15 to the Commission to produce a report to the Minister, because there has been a deliberate restriction of supply in this country by extremely underhand means.

Mr. Rodgers

The point about possible reference of the situation in London is one which will be borne in mind when my right hon. Friend considers new references to the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Gaitskell

Where do we stand now? First, the Minister said that there was no possibility of raising this under the Monopolies Commission and now, apparently, he is saying that there is. Can he clear the position and say whether in fact it is the intention of the Board of Trade to refer this matter to the Monopolies Commission? If not, does he really say that the Government have no interest and no responsibility to take any action in this matter? If they accept responsibility, what are they going to do about it?

Mr. Rodgers

I certainly did not say that the whole subject was not one which could be referred to the Commission. I merely said that at least so far as the national dailies were concerned it did not meet the necessary condition about one-third of a particular description of goods being in the hands of one person or group. This may apply in the case of the London evening papers. That obviously is a point which would be considered by my right hon. Friend when he was considering further references to the Commission.

Mr. Jay

Would not the Minister agree that it is beyond dispute that more than one-third of the London evening newspaper circulation is under a single control?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that is not disputed. But right hon. and hon. Gentlemen must recognise that it is not for the Government to say whether people should be forced to start new papers or keep in existence papers which are already losing money.

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