§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
On 4 May 1984 I had the honour to initiate an Adjournment debate on the newspaper publishing industry. I make no apology for coming forward tonight, 11 months later, to propose basically the same subject yet again because of what I see as the great difficulties connected with the printing and composing unions. They seem to have got stronger while management has been bashed time after time. I believe very much that the industry is now being subjected to industrial anarchy, and I think it is a very important point to make.
We have to bear in mind that 69 per cent. of people now read a daily newspaper. Recent statistics show that 38.3 million read a daily paper, 35.3 million of them taking a popular paper and 3 million a quality paper. The average readership of a Sunday paper is now 33.2 million people. It can be safely said, therefore, that any strike or loss of copies by shortfall affects many people.
Some of us recently fought a campaign against VAT on newspapers and on the cover prices, as we saw it as an attack on learning. I believe that denying people the automatic right to buy the paper of their own choice is much the same. I do not knock the regular circulation wars between the papers, but I consider it intolerable when regular availability at every local newsagent of a particular paper is no longer assured because of union interference. The culprits are always, I am afraid, the National Graphical Association and the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades, SOGAT '82, which continue to kick the newspaper industry for petty political points. They do not understand the number of people they are affecting. I do not mean just newsagents, who do not get paid when they do not have the copies to be sold, but all other people involved who want to know what is happening in society. They can listen to local and national radio and watch television, but the permanent word comes from the local or national daily paper, and if they cannot get that, they feel let down, and rightly so.
Every time one has an industrial stoppage, effectively one is bringing about an increase in the cover price. Both prestige papers such as The Times and popular papers such as The Sun have fought back with large-scale advertising in the former and mass circulation in the latter. However, large increases in the cost of production and cover prices have reduced the number of people buying more than one paper. That must be bad news for the industry.
I said last year that the industry was fighting to survive. Eleven months later, sadly, I see no change to report to date. The numbers of days lost through industrial action in the past six years are horrific. In 1979, 640,000 working days were lost. Incidentally, 600,000 were for The Times alone. In 1980, 128,000 were lost, in 1981 13,000 were lost—that was quite a reasonable year—in 1982, 15,000 were lost, in 1983, 30,000 were lost and in 1984 the provisional figure is 27,000.
Let us look at the number of stoppages in the newspaper industry for each of the past six years, which is equally bad, and embarrassing and shocking because it is affecting the industry. In 1979 there were 17, in 1980 there were 17, in 1981 the figure improved, going down to 13, and in 1982, it went down to 12. But up the figure came again in 1983 to 24, of which four were in March and four in 357 November. In 1984 the figure was equal to that of 1983, although the industry was supposed to be improving, self-regulating and watching itself for the future. There were 24 stoppages: four in May, six in July and four in October.
Stoppages are caused for a variety of reasons, no doubt, but they can be costly to the companies concerned. The Financial Times lost £10.1 million in 1983 through one of those kamikaze stoppages. In 1984 it lost £1.3 million in revenue and 2 million copies were lost in that 10-week dispute. That is appalling. In 1985, to date, the Financial Times has already lost 166,000 copies. On 14 March, 49,900 copies were lost. On 15 February, 36,225 copies were lost.
Therefore, the industry is certainly not healthy and alive and kicking, in the way that I would like it to be. Hon. Members would not be far wrong in considering Fleet street industrial relations as in a state of anarchy.
I trace the root of the problem back to November 1983, to the Stockport Messenger group, where there was thuggery on the picket lines, but, for a change, a united front by the newspaper companies, which sued the NGA for maximum damages under the Employment Act 1982. I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Employment to his place on the Front Bench. Action was taken under the Employment Act because of the unlawful industrial action of union members in halting production of national newspapers on 25 and 26 November. Believe it or not, an estimated loss of £10 million was caused by strikes against Mr. Eddie Shah.
It is important to consider what is causing the problems. They are often small incidents of which people may not always take notice — yet they cripple the industry. Between January and February 1984, a dispute involving 550 SOGAT clerical workers halted publication of The Times and The Sunday Times. The origin of the dispute was the appointment of a member of the supervisory section of SOGAT to the position of picture librarian—supposedly a post for clerical branch members.
On 29 February 1984, all London editions of national newspapers were lost because it was the day following the so-called TUC day of action demonstrating solidarity with the trade union movement against Government action at GCHQ. On 12 April 1982, there was no London printing of the Daily Express and the Daily Star because of a dispute involving SOGAT publishing staff working in a warehouse. In June and August 1983, the Financial Times lost 59 days because of a dispute involving the NGA.
The number of stoppages, their duration and the consequential financial losses to national newspapers during the past five years include the following. In 1979, The Times was out between 1 December 1978 and 19 October 1979; in 1980, there was no Financial Times between 5 December and 15 December; in 1981, The Times was out between 25 September to 1 October; in 1982, The Daily Telegraph was out between 17 November and 27 November; The Times was out again from 20 December to 31 December.
It was not too bad a year in 1983, but the figures for 1984 are shocking—and they have been updated since I last spoke in an Adjournment debate on this matter. The Times was out between 13 January and 1 February; The Observer on 26 May; the Financial Times on 5 July; The Guardian on 9 July; The Sun between 13 July and 28 July; and The Daily Telegraph on 11 October.
358 There is no doubt that the industry is in a difficult state, and for some strange reasons. On 24 October the dispute at The Times, which had not published for two days, was about a fifth press needed to increase output. The NGA was offered 70 more jobs to man the press, but instead asked for more pay for its existing workers. The Newspaper Publishers Association received a request from print union leaders on 29 September for a 12 per cent. pay rise. Quite correctly, Lord Marsh said that the claim would not be considered until industrial action at the Financial Times and The Evening Standard was called off. He also said that the employers would not negotiate under duress. At that time the Financial Times had already lost 1,250,000 copies. That dispute needs to be put on the record.
There was more trouble on 28 December at the Financial Times. The management expected to take a tough line and may even have decided to suspend machine room workers — the reason was that there was leap-frogging in the joint press room agreement being sought between SOGAT and the National Graphical Association.
On 5 January there were, yet again, problems at the Financial Times. They arose over a 48-page edition. The NGA did not want such a large edition and it claimed that it broke an ACAS agreement. The disagreement was underpinned by substantitive negotiations on pay and manning and a new sick pay scheme. All that the Financial Times wanted was a joint press room. However, the NGA wanted to narrow pay differentials between its members. In the composing room its members were to earn £700 a week, but in the machine room it was £350. That is a large disparity, but both figures are incredible.
The Times lost two editions, on 22 and 23 October 1984, as a result of disputes. I understand that 525,000 copies were lost on both nights. Between 1 September 1984 and 28 February 1985, the Daily Mail lost 5.6 million copies in total. In the same period, The Guardian lost slightly fewer than 3 million copies. The management of The Guardian refer to these problems as "production difficulties". A spanner can fall into a machine accidentally or by design.
I am not criticising the unions, but there are great problems in the industry and it is time that someone revealed them. The Times group lost £40 million during the 11-month closure of 1978–79. Some disputes may last only a day or two but the result can be catastrophic for the industry from which I come and about which I care. I spent two and a half years working in both printing and publishing for Mr. Robert Maxwell. I watched the industry from the inside just as much as other hon. Members.
Fleet street suffers continually from a distribution shortfall and something must be done about that quickly. I must blame the unions for the shortfall.
The greatest bill that Fleet street has to pay — the wages bill—is liable to rise by 12 per cent. It amounted last year to £530 million and the unions want a 12 per cent. increase without any reduction in manning levels. This is an industry which I consider to be overmanned.
There is fierce competition among the newspapers that are on sale. Each national newspaper must depend on regular publishing, and that is a feature that I want to see. Price rises must be on the horizon, because every time there is a dispute or a strike the price of the newspaper may have to increase.
All our daily and Sunday newspapers need to remain competitively priced, but that is becoming impossible with 359 the high wage bills that they have to meet. The perpetuation of the casual worker — a regular in Fleet street who is protected under the Employment Protection Act 1975 and who has a contract of employment — is putting the entire structure into great difficulties. I have evidence that some casual workers are receiving more than £700 a week. On a Saturday night they can earn £250 for a one-night shift.
The managements of all the newspapers must tighten up the conditions that apply to the casual worker. The casual worker should be paying tax and national insurance and meeting all the requirements that would normally be expected of someone in employment. He should not be paid if he has a fictitious name. I understand that Mickey Mouse and even Ronald Reagan have been listed as working on Saturday evenings for Sunday newspapers.
§ Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)
There has been evidence in the past of Mickey Mouse, Errol Flynn and Sir Galahad, for example, being employed casually in Fleet street. However, this is something that the newspaper publishers allow and welcome. If they want to stop it, why do they not do so? The means of stopping the practice are in their hands, but they do not use them. Obviously they are satisfied with the practice.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I am calling for managements to stop the practice. I am grateful to him for supporting my call.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
The proprietors must co-operate to tighten things up and stop casual workers from nipping from one paper to another, perhaps doing the first edition of one and the third edition of another, which is all too easy when they are all based in Fleet street. Incidentally, I understand that during the strike at The Times the strikers helped to put out The Guardian from the same building.
The fact that there are so few proprietors has been criticised, and I know that the NGA feels this sincerely. That criticism may be justified to some extent, but how many people can afford to own a national paper? Robert Maxwell, with whom I am no longer associated, had the necessary funds, but he took his time trying to get a national newspaper and in 1984 spent £113,400,000 purchasing the Mirror group. Only today Fleet Holdings received a bid from United Newspapers Publications, owner of Punch and various provincial magazines. I understand that it was seriously considering a merger but that after discussions with Fleet Holdings the idea appeared to have no merit. No doubt we shall hear more about that in weeks to come.
I am concerned about the wages bills, which run to tens of millions of pounds. The proprietors must be tougher with the unions and there must be no climb-downs in the future. Plenty of people want jobs and can be trained, although I appreciate that that takes time. Proprietors must unite against the growing abuses by certain trade union members. A daily paper should be reporting the news out in the big world, not providing the main industrial relations story for every other paper, as The Sun has done in the past week.
The unions are destroying this great industry, and I find that very disappointing. Have they no shame? All too frequently, the industrial stoppages in the industry show 360 the unions betraying the trust given to them by the proprietors who employ them and the people who support and buy their papers. The unions must face the fact that the industry is grossly overmanned and natural shrinkage is needed in the work force.
The industry is also overpaid. By taking such large pay rises, employees in the industry are not creating jobs but stealing jobs by not allowing other people into the industry. At column 713 of Hansard for 4 May 1984 my hon. Friend the then Minister of State, Department of Employment, now Paymaster General, rightly identified the main problem as the closed shop, but 11 months later the closed shop is just as effective as it was then. In 1985, as in 1984, a newspaper proprietor cannot employ whom he wants because the unions act as an employment agency. If one does not keep in with the union one's job is on the line, but if one co-operates one has a job for life. Like a dynasty or a legacy, the sons and grandsons of union members have first option on any vacancy notified by the employer. Of course, it is good to introduce someone to the company, but he must get there on merit and not just because of whom he knows. Retirement provisions are also not applied and many people over the age of 65 are still working in the industry. I do not criticise that, but it is interesting to note.
An unfair monopoly exists which should be ended now. Why should power rest with a small number of people who did not put any money into the paper in the first place? I really worry about the NGA, which I regard as the greatest offender in insisting on a tight pre-entry closed shop. Through the closed shop and the tight control that it maintains, the NGA is crippling the industry. Fair competition is denied and the advent of the new, key technology is hindered.
Industrial relations in the newspaper industry could not be worse. I blame both sides for that, but any stoppage now could finish a daily paper. I talked to the Newspaper Publishers Association today and it told me that, between 1 January and 31 August 1983, £7.1 million and 21 million copies of daily newspapers were lost and that, during the same period in 1984, £7.9 million and 59 million copies of daily newspapers were lost.
Closed shops in the newspaper industry protect only those in the industry and deny the opportunity for others to come forward. The print unions are too powerful and insular. From 1 November 1984, closed shops were supposed to be subject to employment legislation. That is especially important when a union member might be expelled, perhaps unreasonably, from the union, thus losing his job. I want newspaper proprietors to invoke the Employment Acts 1980 and 1982 to help themselves and to stamp out threatened industrial action when non-union members are providing services, such as at Warrington with the Stockport Messenger. There should be no blacking of work from non-union sources if it is good work. Companies must seek injunctions or damages from the union concerned.
Last Tuesday, 1 million copies of The Sun were lost because of a dispute between the NGA and SOGAT '82. Meetings were held by both unions in the middle of production and without permission, as The Times said on 20 March. The row is about the new plant for The Sun in Tower Hamlets, where it is planned to print the News of the World and The Sun, and has been going on for two years. The machinery is sophisticated, but I cannot see why the unions should object to going down to Tower 361 Hamlets. Rupert Murdoch's organisation, News International, has spent £72 million on the plant. The row also involves certain plates, which were subject to a union agreement.
On Thursday, I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in business questions to provide Government time for a debate because, yet again, newspapers were at risk. He suggested this debate. I was worried, as I saw evidence of yet another long dispute. Until tonight, when the NGA and SOGAT '82 at The Sun kindly went back, the paper had lost 23,280,000 copies and the London edition of News of the World had lost 2,962,000 copies. How on earth can any paper carry on in such circumstances?
Having spoken to Peter Stephens, the editorial director of The Sun, it is clear to me that such continued industrial action will be catastrophic to the industry. Since June 1984, The Sun has lost 75,840,000 copies. The row involved plate breaking in the machine room, an activity operated jointly by the NGA and SOGAT '82. Was there really a major problem? I do not think so. The NGA claims renewed presence of its members in the day machine room. That is fair, but I want papers such as The Sun to be free and able to manage. Full-time employees will still be guaranteed their jobs after the move. There will be natural wastage, but there is in all industries.
Contrary to what the union says, Rupert Murdoch has created and saved jobs since he took over. When he came in, there were 8,100 employees. In 1984 there were 11,273. That shows a commitment to the industry. Circulation in 1969 was 750,000—in 1984 it was 4.2 million. He pays well. In 1969, £10,700,000 was spent on wages. That increased to £165 million in 1984. Compositors and piece-rate workers earn up to £50,000 a year. A typical pay slip for a compositor on a three-day week doing 24 hours is £700. A machine operator who works three days a week and a few hours on Saturday, totalling 21 hours, receives £300. It seems to me and, no doubt, to most people that The Sun is looking after its employees.
I understand that the National Graphical Association bosses have outside jobs. I am told that one has a car repair shop and another runs a few supermarkets. That is interesting, and I am glad that they can do two jobs at the same time.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
I have not.
On 27 June the employees effected a complete ban on an edition of The Sun, which lasted three days, because they did not agree with the editorial. It is outrageous that an editor cannot express his own view. The Budget edition — the major chance for its more than 4.2 million readers—
§ Mr. Bruinvels
They might also look at the pictures. That edition did not come out, despite all the work done by the NUJ, people in the Institute of Journalists, and researchers who were brought in to make the top edition.
Tonight the paper was published in its usual form, and I welcome it back. It statesYou've seen the rest, now read the best!I understand that during the dispute, the other proprietors, did not keep solidarity—dare I, as a Conservative, use that word?—and say that, with a shortfall of 4 million copies a day, they would not give in to union abuses. Robert Maxwell immediately authorised the additional printing of the Daily Mirror in excess of 1.5 million copies, the Daily Express published 1 million extra copies, and the Daily Star an extra 600,000.
I would have thought that they should have stopped the unions from taking advantage. Do not the unions realise that they are cutting their own throats because, with other papers printing extra copies and providing greater interest, they may not attract their readers back? After three days, brand loyalty may be lost. That worries me. Why did not the newspaper proprietors stick together? I would have thought that the best thing for them to do was to fight as a united force. I have heard of awful incidents in print rooms, such as fires, torn rolls of print and broken plates. I urge The Sun to sue now for the 23 million copies lost. There are injunctions against SOGAT '82 and the NGA and damages worth £500,000.
The newspaper industry is great. I revealed how many people read a paper. Hon. Members should consider circulation figures, the power of unions in conjunction with editors, and the need of people for their papers. The circulation figure for The Sun is 4.1 million, the Daily Mirror 3.5 million, the Daily Express 2 million, the Daily Star 1.6 million, The Daily Telegraph 1.3 million, The Times 456,000, The Guardian 471,000, the Daily Mail 1.8 million and the Financial Times 166,000.
The circulation figures for Sunday papers are The Mail on Sunday 1.6 million, News of the World 4.6 million, Sunday Express 2.5 million, Sunday Mirror 3.4 million, Sunday People 3.2 millon, Sunday Telegraph 712,000, The Sunday Times 1.3 million, and The Observer 744,000. That shows how many people need, read and rely on papers, and why unions are seen to be taking advantage.
The provincial side of the industry is going well. The Wolverhampton Express and Star has experienced some local difficulties. It has agreed its copy, and writes and edits directly on to computer screens but is waiting to transfer the copy directly into print, without it passing through the hands of NGA compositors. If it can be done there, why cannot it be done in Fleet street? The row there will continue. That paper has set a good example and is to be admired.
As for provincial papers, there are 1,300 titles, 7 million daily sales and 9 million weekly sales. In an interview today, a representative of the Newspapers Publishers Society said:Every night of the week one of our members suffers some industrial action.It is such a commonplace occurrence that they do not keep figures. There is a dispute procedure where members are supposed to report when there has been a breach. The reports are prepared for a fortnightly meeting, but they are not as accurate as they should be. During the first eight months of 1983, 21 million copies were lost; in 1984, the figure was 59 million. The financial losses are incredible.
363 We have a saviour in Eddie Shah, who is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and to get the investment. He believes in and supports the new technology. He wants a free team with greater creativity, and he wants his magazines and newspapers to be in full colour. He believes that the editor should have the freedom to edit, which strikes me as a sound proposition.
As was reported in the Financial Times of 19 December 1984:There is no single section of British industry where the new technology poses a more dramatic challenge than in newspapers.We have a Minister for Information Technology. We have the technology, and I should have thought that the Fleet street unions would be prepared to accept that technology. But they have successfully blocked it for a long time. I assure members of the NGA—I have regular meetings with newspaper proprietors and publishers —that jobs will not be lost, apart from redeployment to other parts of the industry and through natural wastage. When the Portsmouth News moved three NGA compositors into sub-editors' jobs, immediately 73 National Union of Journalists members went on strike. The sooner we have one union, the better for the entire industry.
I want newspapers to report the news as it is. I want editors to comment on the news as it affects us, or should affect us. Proprietors should put up the funds, managing through delegation, and unions should put it together as good "inkies".
The contents of a tabloid front page are, of course, the easiest way of selling a paper. I am afraid that we must have sex, or headlines such as, "TV pop star divorced" or "TV pop star engaged"—
§ Mr. Bruinvels
It always seems to be on the front page of the papers. There also seems to be something about religion every time, with a bishop saying something. Anything to do with Lady Diana or any member of the royal family is there, and there must be bingo. That is the magic formula. I want to see decent papers selling because they have a good story to tell. I want the newspaper industry to act responsibly. I want the staff to have the right not to join a trade union if that is their wish. I want the union barons to be told that they have had their day, and that, although they should look after their industry, they will not reign supreme in future. I want the unions to act responsibly for a change. I do not want management always to have to pick up the tab for what the unions have done that night or the night before. If SOGAT '82 or the NGA care about the industry, they should put their money where their mouths are—
§ Mr. Bruinvels
It is fair to say that they are looking after themselves. I say that they are looking after themselves too well and are forgetting those who must pay the bill—
§ Mr. Bruinvels
If they are receiving too much money, and the paper cannot be published because the proprietor 364 cannot afford it, or the price of the paper has to be increased, I would not call that a long-term investment in the industry.
I do not want management to come cap in hand, on its knees, giving in at the last moment to the unions. I want it to be strong for a change and to try to get the new keyboard technology accepted. It has already been well tested in the provinces, and I want Fleet street to take it up. I want SOGAT 82 to trust the proprietors when they say that no one will lose his job. The unions should be proud to represent craftsmen and professionals. They should be loyal to their newspapers. In my constituency, the Leicester Mercury has just such a relationship, which is why 74 per cent. of the households in Leicester buy it.
The unions should also remember us as customers and as readers. As I said earlier, if The Sun is unavailable for six days, brand loyalty can be lost for ever. If circulation falls, jobs will be put in jeopardy in the news groups as well.
To keep up circulation, the unions must be prepared to guarantee maximum output, but do they care? They are so interested in milking the company that they forget about the readers. Anyone can strike when they are still getting paid, or know that they are too valuable to be lost for good. I admire the printers for their work. The trouble is that they can step out of one job and join another paper— the Fleet street casual. They can nip down Fleet street, do a casual job, avoid tax and earn an exorbitant rate of pay, but, if the proprietors joined together, they could black troublemakers who did that. I should like to see employers doing the blacking for a change.
In case hon. Members are worrying about phoney names, we should ensure that no one with a phoney name is taken on—that should assure the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans).
§ Mr. Bruinvels
That may be so, but there must be a change, and I am calling for one.
The proprietors should keep a central register and no one should be paid unless it is clear who they are. The union anarchists and troublemakers in the unions should go. Companies should show increasing readiness to take legal action against unions that take industrial action.
As I said in Litho Week, not that long ago, I fully support the NGA document "The Way Forward" about the new technology. It makes a lot of sense. There will be some redundancies, but I hope that there will be very few. I want to see a production unit resulting from the amalgamation of the NGA, the NUJ and SOGAT. If they do not agree, some of our daily papers will be lost for ever. The unions must unite in helping to produce good papers.
We have a free press, and the freedom of choice to choose the paper that we want. The proprietors, publishers, editors and unions must work together to ensure a newsworthy, accurate and readable product paper —a paper that comes out on time. No paper or article should be blacked again, and no editorial policy should be dictated to by the unions. The country knows that Fleet street is overpaid, overmanned and overprotected, and this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.
The country needs to be well informed. The unions have a moral as well as a contractual duty to co-operate with the editor. There is no time for political dogma. The newspaper industry will die unless it puts its house in order. There is no time to lose.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)
I start by declaring an interest in that I am sponsored by the National Graphical Association. I thought that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who I know takes an interest in the print industry, might have declared an interest. He fills those bits of the British press for which the NGA sets the type, and the Press Association provides the copy. He regularly contributes to the dial-a-quote system, or rent-a-quote system, and is always ready to provide a quotable quote to fill the space between the adverts, or, in the case of The Times, between the adverts and the semi-nude women.
I welcome tonight's debate. The hon. Member effectively re-read the speech that he made in an Adjournment debate last year, and is therefore already on record as having an interest, and not only on the basis of his previous employment with Mr. Maxwell's publishing enterprise, which was not then related to the newspaper printing industry. From the point of view of the trade union side, I welcome somebody with an interest in the industry, even if it is, with the greatest of respect to the hon. Member, a somewhat confused interest.
The print and newspaper industry has different parts and technologies, and different systems in industrial relations. There is a common thread through print houses, the provincial newspapers, the national newspapers, in that there are two main print unions, SOGAT '82 and the NGA. The NGA organises the compositors, the people responsible for the art work, and for general type setting in the industry. It is one of the last almost exclusively craft unions in the country.
One of the difficulties about creating one union for print workers is the division of the industry into print, craft and process sections. I believe that the difficulties are beginning to be fully appreciated by all sides. The mergers in 1982 that created the present structure of the National Graphical Association and SOGAT have largely been completed. It is the earnest hope of everybody who takes an interest in the printing industry that the two unions will merge and that eventually they will be joined by the National Union of Journalists, although that is a remote prospect. Nevertheless, I am conscious of the fact that the NUJ is meeting this week in national conference, and anything can happen at NUJ conferences. Hope springs eternal.
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)
I am not clear about whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that the two print unions should be joined by the NUJ or whether he is saying that the NUJ should be joined by the two print unions.
§ Mr. O'Neill
It is likely that within the foreseeable future the two print unions will come to some form of arrangement. It is less likely that the NUJ will enter into such an arrangement at an early stage. I think it will come eventually, but there are problems, to which I shall refer at a later stage, that put obstacles in the way of a merger. If we can get rid of those obstacles we may eventually have one union for all those who work in the printing industry.
The most recent problem to confront the industry was created by the Budget, namely the imposition of value added tax on advertisements in newspapers and periodicals. About 19 national titles, 1,644 regional titles and 6,408 magazines are produced within the United Kingdom. The nationals account for about 35,000 workers 366 and the regionals for about 68,000. The magazines have a different basis for counting their work force. About 6,000 of those who work for the national newspapers are members of the NGA, while about 10,000 of those who work for the regional newspapers are members of the NGA. Employment throughout the United Kingdom in the industry is about 136,000. It is a major industrial producer of newspapers, periodicals and magazines.
The imposition of VAT at 15 per cent. will have quite an effect on the viability of this part of the printing industry, in particular on the viability of classified advertisements which in the main are paid for by individuals. The receipts from classified advertisements amount to about £800 million, or 36 per cent. of all advertisements. Fishing rods, old televisions, bicycles and the like are regarded as classified advertisements and the Budget will lead to the imposition of VAT at 15 per cent. on those advertisements. In regional newspapers and local newspapers that are paid for — that is, not free sheet publications — classified advertisements account for about 20 per cent. of total revenue.
Classified advertisements are used by small businesses and the individual trying to sell an item. The Government have introduced a start-up scheme, but the turnover of many small businesses is not yet big enough to warrant a VAT number and therefore they cannot pass on VAT charges. That is a restriction on a business in its early stages. The £50 million in VAT which is expected to be collected in a full year as a result of the change will cause more of a problem than it is worth. The Chancellor should think again. Detailed debates on the Finance Bill will provide an opportunity to discuss that. However, I have no interest in participating in that exercise.
The financial sector will also be affected. Banks, insurance companies and finance houses do not have arrangements for VAT and they will have to bear the cost of VAT in future.
The Newspaper Society, the organisation responsible for representing provincial newspapers suggests that about 3 per cent. of the income from advertising will disappear as a result of the imposition of VAT on newspaper advertising.
The imposition of VAT will endanger some of the firms which have invested heavily in new technology for the newspaper industry. By that new technology, more newspapers can be printed and excess capacity can be accounted for through free sheets. To ensure the maximum utilisation of the new investment, as many copies as possible must be produced. The existing steps being taken by local newspapers with the NGA and SOGAT could be halted or interrupted by VAT.
Sometimes provincial newspapers and newpapers produced in Fleet street are confused. Two different types of newspapers are produced by different technologies and they cater for different markets. In the last two or three years about 30 agreements have been made in respect of the new technology between provincial newspapers and the NGA. The 30 companies involved publish about 50 titles. The scale of the operation is such that about 30 per cent. of all English and Welsh provincial newspapers are covered by new technology agreements. The expense of investing in new technology is such that the operations must be fairly large. We are talking about large runs and large papers.
The new technology is being phased in. At Portsmouth the final stage has been reached and a measure of 367 agreement has eventually been arrived at. The process has been painful. We have no illusions about that. Pride is dented and old attitudes have to be set aside. The agreement between the NUJ, SOGAT and the NGA ensures single stroking—that is on a sub-editorial basis —one finger of one hand sets the print for the runs. For that to be achieved, an arrangement has been made whereby some compositors have been trained by management to undertake what hitherto has been the job of the journalists in sub-editorial work. Unfortunately, in the case of the Wolverhampton Express and Star, in which a similar stage was reached, the management chose to renege on the undertakings that it would not introduce the final stage of the new technology without complete inter-union agreement. It sold the deal to the NUJ, as I understand it, on the basis of £15 per week. This deal has now been put on ice at the insistence of the TUC which acceded to the request of the NGA and SOGAT, which said that they were not prepared to countenance the deal because they had not been properly consulted and all the matters had not been raised.
I realise that the dispute involving the Wolverhampton Express and Star is a messy one, and I do not wish to go into all the details now. However, in Portsmouth a deal has been struck between the unions and the management, while in the case of the other newspaper the management has been breaking out and adopting tactics that have resulted in confrontation and litigation. This, I believe, has not been resolved to the satisfaction of management which has won what can only be called a pyrrhic victory in the courts.
Another settlement is in the offing in Bolton. From what I understand, the agreement is now subject to ratification. This may be the first deal for settlement on the basis of the new technology which follows on from the Portsmouth agreement.
The local newspaper industry is, therefore, moving into the final stage of acceptance of new technology. The Newspaper Society as yet is not entering into the national council for the training of journalists scheme with regard to sub-editorial training. The Newspaper Society has made a national decision not to participate in a scheme which has the backing of the NUJ and the NGA. This is regrettable, because it is evidence of a reluctance on the part of the Newspaper Society to accept new technology with anything like the commitment which the NGA has indicated. The hon. Member for Leicester, East fairly paid tribute to the document "The Way Forward on New Technology" which, although it is printed on pink paper, will eventually be regarded as a blueprint for the industry. We believe that this document will show the way.
The Newspaper Society is not as concerned about training as it should be. In respect of the apprenticeship scheme, it has done no more than reduce the indentured apprenticeship from five to three years. It has not followed the example of the British Printing Industries Federation, which covers the print shops as distinct from the newspapers, the general jobbing printers, book printers and so on. It has not established what has to be regarded as probably the most flexible form of training in any industry in respect of what used to be called apprenticeships. There are modular schemes in the industry which do not require age entrance qualifications. People above the age of 16 or 17 can come back for retraining and gain qualifications in new forms of technology using the flexibility of the modules. In many 368 respects, this will probably be regarded as a general example of training in industry. I hope that the Newspaper Society will follow this through.
I may seem to be making heavy weather of the point. I am stressing the fact that Fleet street does not train people. The national and main provincial papers traditionally do not train people but cream off the best of those who are willing to move from the old fashioned indentured apprenticeship scheme or the new modular scheme. Because those newspapers do not train, they recruit by what might be described as a process of graduation.
That has meant in some respects that the path towards new technology in Fleet street, and on the part of other national titles, has been more restrictive. Indeed, many Fleet street papers have turned their faces against certain aspects of the new technology. For example, the hon. Member for Leicester, East spoke of the Daily Telegraph moving to a new site. But that paper will not be taking up the new technology; it will use a modern form of the traditional technology because it finds that system better from the editionising point of view. In other words, that is regarded as being better for changing during the run. Perhaps the Daily Telegraph is not a good example to cite in this context because it has such a wide and thorough sports coverage.
The Minister, being a football fan, will appreciate that people in the north who read papers such as the Daily Mirror are not greatly worried about the fortunes of London football clubs, unless northern clubs are involved in matches. They prefer to read main reports in their own newspapers. Often, those reports are inserted in the middle of runs by what is known in the trade as editionising. It is an effective means of dealing with insertions of that sort.
The Fleet street newspapers have not shown a great willingness to move towards the new technology in that respect. Nor are their traditional structures such as to afford many opportunities for training because, as I say, they have not been in the business of training.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East spoke at length about the latest dispute at The Sun. I mention that as an example of the problems that create interruptions to print runs and the non-appearance of newspapers. My understanding of the dispute is different from his, and, if I tell the House what I know of it, that may supplement his account of the proceedings.
Metal plates which are used in the production of The Sun and other newspapers have a tendency on occasions —if there is something wrong with the quality or with the operation in which they are being used—to break. This causes a considerable hazard to the people working nearby. At The Sun there has been a great deal of anxiety about that and various investigations have been carried out by management and the work force with, I must say, varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The work force eventually decided that enough was enough and said that a chapel meeting woud be held during working time, which was the traditional way of expressing disagreement with the way that things were going. There was nothing untoward about that. It did not mark the end of western society or the start of a bloody revolution in Fleet street. It was the traditional means by which the workforce expressed disapproval.
There is a process of double locking. The plates are fitted and locked and the rollers are turned for a couple of revolutions. The plates are then tightened again to make 369 them doubly secure. This double locking process takes time. It was time in that case for which the management was not prepared to make allowance, and problems arose about bonuses and so on. The meetings of the chapel went on. Management said that the workers must go back to work or they would be laid off. Not only did management lay off the men in the machine rooms, but it laid off the rest of the print workers and, indeed, everybody but the administrative and clerical staff.
It was three and a half to four days before national officials were given a hearing, because The Sun management said that before union discussions started there would have to be a return to work, with guarantees that no further interruptions would take place. There then followed 12 to 14 hours of negotiation which has resulted in the production of today's newspaper.
So far as I know, everyone who was laid off, apart from those directly involved, has been reimbursed in full for the days' wages that were lost. A study group has been set up between health and safety executives from SOGAT, the NGA and the management. Subject to discussions with the local chapel officials a report will be produced. At the end of the procedure, provided agreement is reached, the work force who have so far not had any reimbursement may well get their money for the days when they were not working.
Hon. Members may draw whatever conclusions they wish from that agreement. Certainly it seems to be well balanced. It has got the presses rolling again and has got reimbursement for the unfortunate victims of the dispute between the union and management. There is a prospect of a complete resolution of the dispute. That is an example of how problems arise and can be resolved.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East seemed to suggest that in the next round of industrial relations legislation there should be a ban on strike action by print workers. Perhaps I am putting words into his mouth; he may not have gone that far. The logical conclusion, if that is the right phrase that one could use, given the cerebral processes of the hon. Member, is that we would expect some kind of ban on strike action if he were to draft the next industrial relations legislation. God forbid that he should be given the opportunity.
The problems which confront the print industry and which in many respects are encapsulated by the latest dispute can by and large be resolved. When managements seek to ride roughshod over the unions, as happened in The Times when management sought to introduce new work practices without consultation, they invariably run into difficulty and many papers are lost. When they take the measured pace that has been adopted in the provincial newspapers and go step by step by consultation and discussion, they can make tremendous progress in a relatively short period in taking advantage of new technology.
Last weekend no less a journal than The Economist paid a back-handed compliment to the NGA when it said, in regard to the introduction of new technology to the newspaper industry, that it was probably inadvisable for newspaper proprietors to have NGA members doing sub-editorial work because the NGA was a harder-nosed, more effective negotiating body than the National Union of Journalists.
It would appear that in Fleet street over the years the print workers have been able to get reasonable rewards for 370 their efforts. Those rewards have been freely agreed by management. There has not been a dramatic increase over the past six years because of free collective bargaining under the Conservative Government. The print workers have achieved their reward because of a long-standing historical arrangement whereby the craft and the skills of the print workers have been acknowledged and their union officials have been able to get a wage struck.
I appreciate the fact that problems arise. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has thrown statistics about —many of them used in a previous debate and merely updated—but has not given anything like the reasoned approach that both sides of the industry require. We see in the provincial newspapers, away from the public gaze, that deals are being struck, new technology is being introduced and expansion is occurring. We see in the Fleet street and national newspapers that there is a concentration of ownership, a narrowing of choice and lost opportunities with respect of new technology. Often newspaper owners are concerned not so much with the process but with using the newspapers as a mouthpiece for their beliefs, prejudices, ideas—call it what you will. Editors should have the right to editorialise or to write editorials. At the end of the day, these editors have only the right to say what their proprietors will allow.
The Times under Harold Evans provides ample evidence of the fact that an independently minded editor was not acceptable to Mr. Murdoch and was sacked. It may be that Government Members preferred a new editor, and that is their privilege. The previous editor sought to exercise his independence and, because it was not in keeping with the views that the newspaper's owner sought to express, the editor was sacked.
We need to do more than look at the narrow focus of industrial relations, which the hon. Member for Leicester, East tried to do. We need to examine other aspects—who owns newpapers, how they should be controlled and the guarantees which, in the case of The Times, we thought had been established and would provide an editor with the independence that a national newspaper such as The Times was supposed to enjoy. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. If the hon. Member for Leicester, East had dealt with that aspect, we could have had a more meaningful discussion about a healthy and free press.
The National Graphical Association is proud of its record of speedy and effective co-operation with the management of local newspapers to ensure that new technology is brought in and that, as far as possible in our economic climate, it is not the fault of the association's members that newspapers go under. If other newspapers in Fleet street adopted a constructive attitude towards the newspaper unions, as the provincial papers have done, there would be a transformation in the fortunes of many of the papers that seem to be under difficulty.
§ 3.3 am
§ Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)
According to the Order Paper, the debate sponsored by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) is onThe future of the newspaper industry.I assumed that we would debate what was in The Times today about a takeover bid being launched by another organisation for Fleet Holdings. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that the future of the newspaper industry 371 is of great concern. The threats that are often placed on newspaper groups by takeover bids of one group against another should be the subject of proper debate.
I thought that the mind of the hon. Member for Leicester, East might have been exercised by the fact thatUnited"—the group seeking to take over Fleet Holdings—already owns 20.1 per cent. of Fleet, most of which it bought in January from Mr. Robert Maxwell, publisher of Mirror Group Newspapers.I had thought that that was the sort of issue that we would debate, that perhaps we would discuss the great issues involving the right of reply, or that when people suffer at the hands of a newspaper they should be given the right to put their point of view in the newspaper concerned, or the role of the Press Council and whether it should be strengthened, or the lobby system, which is causing concern at all levels. Those are the sorts of subjects which I would have thought we could discuss. We certainly could have discussed the problems in Manchester, where there is concern about the closure of a great printing works because of problems concerning contracts with certain newspaper groups, and the redundancies and unemployment that will occur in Manchester over the printing of northern editions.
We did not get any of that. What we got—and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) obviously knew a thing or two in this context—was a long litany of industrial disputes, the blame for all of which, according to the hon. Member for Leicester, East, should be placed upon the shoulders of the NGA and SOGAT '82. The purpose of outlining those disputes over the last three or four years to the House of Commons escapes me.
In that context, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan on his speech, and I am sure that when NGA members read the record of this debate they will be well satisfied with the case that my hon. Friend made out tonight in their defence.
The other thing that puzzled me as I listened to the hon. Member for Leicester, East was whether he was the official spokesman for the Newspaper Society or Mr. Murdoch, or was simply a self-appointed parliamentary spokesman dabbling in affairs which presumably he thinks will get him further publicity — although after listening to most of his comments I rather suspect that very few newspapers will want to publish any of them. I certainly have not the faintest idea why he bothered to read out the circulation figures of various newspapers. What purpose that served is absolutely lost on me, other than perhaps to prove that The Sun and the News of the World are at the top of the league of newspaper sales. Well, we already knew that.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East is one of the Conservative Members who are loud in their praise of the Prime Minister, all her works and all she stands for. From time to time the right hon. Lady makes it very clear that market forces and the voice of the market should prevail in all things. What the hon. Gentleman overlooks is that in whatever goes on in Fleet street in the newspaper industry the newspaper trade unions are entitled to defend themselves and their members at all times. The unions and the workers are part of the market forces.
I would point out a contradiction in terms in the hon. Gentleman's speech. He denounced the trade unions in Fleet street on the ground that the industry is overmanned 372 and the men overpaid, regaling us with stories of wages of £700 a week. In the light of the hon. Gentleman's stand on most issues, I would have expected him to praise the NGA and SOGAT '82 for doing an absolutely splendid job on behalf of their members in getting them £700 a week. I only wish that my union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, could get that for our members throughout the country. I am sure that my colleagues in the union would be absolutely delighted.
Finally, I want to refer to the stories which the hon. Gentleman told us about part-time or casual workers signing on in Fleet street under the pseudonyms of "Mickey Mouse", "Errol Flynn" and various other film stars. This is not a new story. It has been going the rounds for many years. Perhaps the Minister will address some of his remarks to this matter. If that practice takes place, the people to be condemned for it are the newspaper proprietors, the Treasury and the various tax inspectors, who are well aware of it. I do not know whether it is still going on, but, if it is, they are also aware that it has been going on for many years. I well recall a row in the parliamentary Labour party back in 1977 or 1978, when the issue came up. Many of us in the parliamentary Labour party denounced the suggestion that, provided it did not happen in the future, a moratorium would be declared against those who had committed what were criminal offences.
Let me make it clear that we in the Opposition deplore such practices and believe that people should pay their proper taxes and not be allowed to get away with not doing so. If there is criticism, it cannot be directed at the trade unions. It is a matter for the Treasury and the newspaper proprietors, who could stamp out the practice, tomorrow night if they so desired, but it is obvious that they do not wish to do so. They wish to let it continue. Presumably they allow it to carry on because it is in their interests to do so.
Not much has come out in the debate apart from the splendid defence by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan of his trade union colleagues. I hope that the Minister will say just a few words about the Treasury and the Revenue presumably being defrauded of many thousands of pounds by those awful individuals who are signing on for £300 or £400 a night under the pseudonym Mickey Mouse.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
I am grateful to all my hon. Friends who have come to listen to this important debate. They should join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on raising it. This is not the first time that he has raised the issue; he has drawn the House's attention on several occasions to something that probably matters to more people each day than almost any other issue that can be discussed here. People rely on the newspapers for their information. They rely on them for buying and selling goods. Many rely on the newspapers for their employment. We should remember, as my hon. Friend said, that more people might be able to rely on the industry for their employment if conditions were such that people could enter it as publishers. Therefore, there would he more titles, and more competition. Some newspapers would go out of business. I see no reason why it is any 373 purpose of Parliament to protect every title that presently exists. We want to make sure that there can be free and fair competition within the industry.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) made one or two unwarranted attacks on my hon. Friend, and I suspect that he led his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) into similar behaviour. Given that it is the time when the final editions of the national press are being put to bed, it may be a sign that more of us should be put to bed. Perhaps we can conduct the rest of the debate in a more open and friendly way.
I had not realised that it was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who had suggested to my hon. Friend that he should raise this matter on the Consolidated Fund. I shall not be buying a drink for my right hon. Friend for some time.
I do not intend to give a direct answer to the point made on what may be connivance between workers, employers and possibly even trade unions when people apparently work under certain names so that their income tax is not deducted and their national insurance is not paid. My suspicion is that the situation has changed over the past two years, but I shall make sure that the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North are passed on to colleagues in Government. He will receive a reply spelling out the situation, which could also go to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Clackmannan.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan managed to put a more acceptable face on the NGA than almost anyone else could have done. I had my suspicions, and they were only confirmed when I looked up the hon. Gentleman in The Times guide. I see that he is really a member of the General and Municipal Workers Union, and the white collar section at that. I recommend to the NGA that it at least doubles the contribution that it makes to him for his advice and the way in which he puts across its case.
I should like to refer to the most significant points that underlie the debate and which—
§ Mr. O'Neill
Before the Minister goes further, to save myself any extra, if not undue, embarrassment, I should like to say that under the sponsorship arrangement, with which I am sure he is well acquainted, any moneys from unions that sponsor hon. Members go to the local Labour party, not to the individuals concerned. There is a certain nicety there, which should be made clear for those who take an interest in these matters but are not always as well informed as I am sure the Minister is.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I do not see any reason why I should be more precise in my remarks than the hon. Gentleman was when he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. The honours, perhaps, are even.
I am sure that the House will return to these issues on a number of occasions. I do not want to launch into what might be seen as a reasonably standard attack on the unions. I certainly do not think that the Fleet street chapels are under the control of the national executive or the national union. Most people realise that they are independent, autonomous groups of people no more tied to Socialism than I am. Many of them live in my constituency, and when I am canvassing they tell me with pride that they have contracted out of the political levy and they often say that they are rather keen on earning a good deal of money.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I thought that we were talking about the people in the industry. The underlying issue is whether the trade unions are doing what their members want. In most cases, they are doing that. The questions whether there is a framework within which they can negotiate and whether there is a reasonable balance of power between employers and employees will also be covered in the next debate.
In the newspaper industry, there is a common acceptance of the priorities for the industry, but different interests in moving towards that. It is a matter of reconciling different union interests and trying to get a better developed common interest between employers and those working in the industry. We must always remember that those who will decide the future of the industry are not those working in it but the customers. It is the response that the industry gives to the demands of its customers that will determine the number of jobs, the pattern of production, the people involved and the industrial agreements that will best meet the needs of the customers.
It is sad, but true, that industrial relations practices in Fleet street, especially in the printing industry, can be among the worst in this country. When things go well, they are probably among the best. The difficulty is that today's newspapers are of interest today, but not tomorrow. If production is lost employers find themselves in a great deal of difficulty and feel that the bargaining strength is not balanced. I do not believe that Government should step in and try to make special industrial relations arrangements for the newspaper industry. However, we recognise that on occasions resistance to bully-boy tactics in the industry has not been as effective as it might have been. Government legislation — or Parliament's legislation—
§ Mr. Bottomley
Legislation is passed by a majority in the House. It is no better and no worse than motions passed by a majority in a union conference, or even the Labour party conference.
§ Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)
It is better when passed by the House, especially when the Conservative party is in Government.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I shall draw a line and start with a new paragraph.
Legislation has given employers the means to redress the balance of power. The provisions of the Employment Act 1982 on closed shop balloting came into force in November 1984. That is more important outside Fleet street, because in Fleet street the unions are relatively solid.
Examples have been brought to my attention of disciplinary action against members who have declined to come out on secondary action, which is unlawful, and also examples of some of the fines that union branches or the national union have tried to impose. I suspect that that will come out into the open and it will be difficult to defend the scale of penalty imposed. However, it will also be difficult to justify the weakness of employers in not standing up for their employees. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) said, we are not criticising only one side of the industry for there is fault on both sides— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bottomley
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) wishes one of us to say that we recognise his presence in the Chamber. No doubt he will be participating in future debates as much as in this one.
We have seen the virtual legal extinction of the closed shop, although current legislation does not outlaw it. It is still legal for an employer to operate with a pre-entry closed shop and to make membership of a particular union a condition of employment. Where the closed shop is unballoted, there is nothing to compel an employee to remain in the union.
Legislation affords members of unions some protection. It is unfair if an employer dismisses an employee in a closed shop if he has lost union membership as a result of unreasonable expulsion or if there are complaints pending or proceeding before a tribunal.
Other factors are the balance of industrial power and protection for individual union members. It is important to recognise, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan did, that within the industry some of the hopes that people had before 1982 are being resurrected and that the idea of getting the NGA and SOGAT together, which as an observer I believe would make a good deal of sense for the members of both unions and would be welcomed by the proprietors and publishers, is likely to move forward.
That will not happen in a smooth progression because life is not like that. There are issues to be negotiated and bargained over. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington occasionally encourages us to recognise, these are matters where those concerned need to use their own perceptions of their own interests and to come to a deal 376 which they believe provides the best balance in meeting those interests as well as providing a way forward for the future.
§ Mr. Bottomley
If my hon. Friend were to allow me occasionally to continue, he might hear me say explicitly as well as implicitly that when the Government start to describe these matters in the way that he accepts he should welcome it instead of commenting that they are not even for the Government to think about.
One of the greatest challenges facing the newspaper industry—and in this instance the Government—is the need to adapt to the introduction of new technology. I am a great believer in those in the industry — those representing the employees as well as the proprietors or managers — working together and trying to move forward together. I am sure that members of the newspaper industry have worked in a similar way to that outlined in the new technology report by the heavy electrical machinery economic development committee.
I shall pursue with a great deal of interest the movements in the newspaper industry. I look forward to seeing whether without Government interference the industry can put right the wrongs which have properly been drawn to the attention of the House this evening and whether more often the unions and the proprietors can manage to put a face on the industry that is rather like the one put forward by their defender this evening, the hon. Member for Clackmannan. I am grateful to those who have attended the debate. I hope that the newspapers do not feel that they will have to change their final editions following it. I look forward to more discussions on the subject in future.