§ THE EARL OF ARRAN rose, to call attention to problems affecting the Press; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must at the outset declare my interests. I am a director of the Daily Mail and General Trust, Ltd., and also a working journalist for Associated Newspapers, Ltd. I am hoping that your Lordships know me well enough to believe that these things will not influence my objectivity. When I speak to your Lordships I am responsible to the House, and to no one else.
§ We have a broad canvas before us. The raw material which is the stuff of this debate consists of the Reports of two Royal Commissions, two previous debates in this House, the Report—of some 150,000 words—of the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Report of the Cameron Committee, and the Report of the Monopolies Commission—nigh on a million words in all. Fortunately, they mostly say the same things. Faced with this mass of verbiage, one can concentrate on only a few aspects. It is not my intention this afternoon to suggest 540 some panacea for our troubles, to find some easy formula; for quite certainly such a thing does not exist. As I see it, the role of a sponsor of a Motion is to set out the position and to allow others wiser and more experienced than himself to comment and to construct. He is, in fact, merely the stage manager—though this does not mean that I shall not express a few views of my own.
§ It had been my intention anyway to raise in your Lordships' House the matter of The Times take-over by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. In that grisly business alone there was surely enough matter for a full debate. The disappearance of a great British institution—or, rather, its conversion into an organ whose main purpose is to make money—is, and must be, a matter of public concern. It is rather as though—and this analogy is not so incorrect—the Royal Navy were taken over by Mr. Onassis. However, that was only the beginning; and since then events have so tumbled over one another that we now find ourselves faced no longer with the question whether The Times should or should not have been taken over, and with the consequences of this event, but with the question whether the newspaper industry, as we know it, is to survive, and what future there is for the 75,000 members of that industry. It is a question not only of the survival of newspapers, but of the future of the people who work for them.
§ Perhaps it may be best, however, if I begin with The Times affair, not only because it is in itself a matter of vital concern but because it is symptomatic of the sorry state in which so many of our fine newspapers find themselves to-day. Your Lordships might say that it ill becomes me, as a director of a company controlling indirectly a newspaper empire, to draw attention to a new and even greater emperor. You might ask: Is this not the pot calling the kettle black? I would answer this by saying that The Times is not, or was not, an ordinary newspaper. Rightly or wrongly, to use the words of the Monopolies Commission, it has come to be regarded, like the B.B.C., as the voice of Britain. If the Daily Mail, which I serve, is a great British newspaper, The Times is, or was, a great British institution. There is an important distinction.541
I may perhaps be forgiven if I refer to a previous debate which I introduced in this House in 1960. At that time it seemed to me that the writing was already on the wall. It seemed to me clear that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, was a compulsive buyer, and, if I may so call him without offence, the rogue elephant of British newspapers, certainly that he was determined to thrust ever onwards. There was nothing particularly prescient in this forecast. The future was clear to all those who cared to listen and to read. In the course of that debate I said, referring, to the noble Lord, if I may be allowed to quote myself in just a very few lines:
If a time comes when one man is in control of too many sources of public information, then someone is going to say, No."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224, col. 471; 22/6/60.]
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, may I interrupt to make one point to the noble Earl? I do so not so much as a participant in this debate, but as the Leader of the House. Do I gather that the noble Earl has given the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, due notice that he intended to launch an attack upon him in this House?
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I wrote to the noble Lord and said that I should be referring to The Times takeover, about which, as he knows, I was in profound disagreement. Does that satisfy the noble Earl? If so, I will continue quoting myself. I went on (col. 472):…I would ask any man with ambitions to become a newspaper octopus, whatever his politics, even if he is politically sexless, not to put himself in a position in which he becomes something which has to be stopped.Well, my Lords, that time came; and I was wrong. Nobody said, No. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, was not stopped. Having failed to take over the Daily Mail, which he tried to do, and the Glasgow Herald (and here I should like to pay tribute to that courageous man, the late Lord Fraser of Allander, who did say, No), he found a willing seller in Mr. Gavin Astor. Surprise was expressed by the Monopolies Commission that The Times Publishing Company, having undertaken its recent costly effort to increase circulation, should have given 542 up the struggle so soon. That is as may be. Suffice it to say that the Astor family's record in regard to The Times is an honourable one, of which they can and should be proud.
This proposal for the take-over of The Times was rightly submitted to the Monopolies Commission, strengthened by two noble Lords; and the Commission, after long and earnest deliberation, concluded that the transfer may be expected not to operate against the public interests. The Commission may, of course, be right. My personal guess, and it is only a guess, is that they reached their conclusion because they could see no practical alternative, although in fact, to my way of thinking, there were two or three. If I am wrong, no doubt we shall be told so by the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, or the noble Lord, Lord Arran; or both. But I think they may agree that it was not exactly the Monopolies Commission's finest hour.
Indeed, the Commission were careful to point out that The Times would no longer be The Times, as we have known it; that it would no longer, to use the Commission's phrase, "speak with its accustomed voice". As for the so-called safeguards, in the shape of the inclusion of four national figures on the new board, the Commission shared the opinion of witnesses that they would be simply a form of window-dressing, in other words stooges, and that they would not provide any more effective safeguards for the future independence and separate identity of The Times than the former Times Committee had done. That Committee consisted of the Lord Chief Justice, the Warden of All Souls, the President of the Royal Society, the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, and the Governor of the Bank of England—not exactly a "second eleven ", but in the event completely powerless.
My Lords, I have laboured this point long enough. Let me simply say that it should be recognised, not merely at home, but in foreign countries, and particularly in the Commonwealth, where The Times is taken very seriously indeed, that The Times is no longer an independent newspaper, no longer the voice of Britain, but the creature of Lord Thomson of Fleet, whose avowed intention it is to make money and whose stable also includes, here and abroad, 103 newspapers, 138 543 magazines, five television stations, including commercial television—
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for correcting me, and perhaps at this moment I may tell a story, which is probably a popular one, about the noble Lord. It is said that he was viewing some regiment of which he is, perhaps, Colonel-in-Chief, and that a tune was played on the.bagpipes. He asked, "What is the name of that tune?", and he was told, "Wi' a hundred pipers an' a', an' a'." But he said "Not 100, but 160."That is, I think, on the same lines as the noble Lord's interruption.
I was corrected by the noble Lord: it is 140 newspapers, 138 magazines, the television stations which I mentioned, six radio stations, and six British book publishing companies. My Lords, that was The Times, that was. But that is simply a lamentable example, to my mind, of what can happen, of what is likely to happen, in our industry again, unless we put our house in order. In the words of my friend, Mr. Briginshaw, the General Secretary of SOGAT—I hope I shall not do him harm by calling him my friend—
§ A NOBLE LORD: Hear, hear!
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I do not know what that interruption means—monopoly becomes the danger if the field is left free to the entrepreneurs. The field looks like becoming freer and freer. What we want to know is this: is the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, going to continue buying British newspapers? Is he aiming to own the whole British Press? Is any Government—Socialist, Liberal or Tory—ever going to stop him? We want to know these things.
To leave The Times and to come back to the general theme which is the subject of this debate, we have, as I have said, a mass of advice from conscientious bodies as to what we should do. Their findings and recommendations can be summarised under three headings: labour and the unions, management and editorial. Let me take labour first. I think that even the most Left-Wing 544 among us can hardly support a situation in which men are receiving pay for work which they are not doing. That is what is happening in the newspaper industry, and it epitomises the absurdity of our labour affairs.
The industry is the best paid in Britain. I repeat that remark. The industry is the best paid in Britain. The earnings must make the mouths of workers in the other industries water. They vary from £25 to £60 for a 35-hour week. Some men working only 17 hours a week are grossing £1,750 a year. Others—working harder, admittedly—are earning 70 a week or £3,500 a year, although if you told them that they were £3,500 a year men they would probably "knock your block off". They get £3,500 a year—more than some union general secretaries themselves—which is absurd.
According to the Economist Report, in two of the mechanical departments of national newspapers over-manning is to the tune of roughly 50 per cent. As for restrictive practices, to quote the Prime Minister, they have reached the dimensions of a national scandal. It is a pretty picture, my Lords! I am sure that our foreign friends must be deeply impressed by it. "Let us support Britain", they will say; "she works so hard for so little money."
My Lords, there is nothing new in this. It has been going on for years. We all knew it in Fleet Street, but we did not bother ourselves overmuch. Those were the lush days. Wages and salaries were high, sales were high, advertising abundant. Why not agree to the extra shilling, or the extra five-minute "blow" on the shift? After all, anything is better than a shut-down.
And then there was the ridiculous union position. When it was required to negotiate a new round of wage increases, it meant dealing with 11 separate unions. That usually took the best part of a year, by which time it was time to start on the next round. The number has decreased since then, but the position is still bedevilled by the mutual jealousy and dislike of the two main unions concerned—SOGAT and N.G.A. Furthermore, at times I am inclined to wonder whether the general secretaries have any influence over the unions which they represent. The dog has been wagged by its own tail before, but it is never an edifying sight. 545 The Cameron Committee made one vital recommendation, and that was that in the "print" there should be one union only. Can anything be more sensible and, at the same time, more obvious?
Next, there is management. What about newspaper management? I know a little about this. I was once a newspaper manager, or assistant manager, myself, though I beg your Lordships not to judge the efficiency or otherwise of newspaper administration by that one fact. There is much criticism of management in the Reports before us. This criticism can be divided into its methods of dealing with the unions, on the one hand, and its general competence, on the other.
Let me say at once, that in the matter of negotiations with the unions, management—and here particularly I mean the Newspaper Proprietors' Association—has been lamentably divided in itself. Even the unions are seemingly surprised at this. The N.P.A. reminds me of an assembly of rival Chinese war-lords at a conference table, each hell-bent on encroaching upon the other's territory and, if possible, destroying him altogether. I suppose that is called competition. The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, said in his Motion on the second Royal Commission on the Press:…in many cases the managements of the most sucessful papers have not only supported, but often almost inspired…restrictive practices in order to make the going harder for their rivals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29/5/63, Vol. 250, col. 869.]If that is so, I can only say that those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad indeed.
As I have said, it was easy enough in the lush days. Suddenly, those days were no longer lush. The chickens came home to roost, and there was dismay in the hen-coop. I am told that there is still dismay, and I am not surprised. Dare one hope that under the next chairman, if not under this one, the N.P.A., in dealing with the unions, will speak with one voice, and, as the second Royal Commission on the Press recommended, that majority decisions will henceforth prevail when the collective interest is involved; and,finally—and this is my own suggestion—that the N.P.A. will appoint a chairman from outside the industry, instead of one of their own war-lords with an axe to grind. Here, may I pay a 546 perhaps unexpected compliment to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet? One cannot but admire the firmness he showed to the unions in regard to the manning of the machines in Hemel Hempstead. He won. It was not merely what is tiresomely called "a triumph of common sense"; it was his own personal victory, and by it he proved that toughness based on right and justice pays off.
Now for management, not in its relations with labour, but in itself. The Economist Intelligence Unit, none of whom, I read, had any experience of newspaper production, failed to realise, I think, that newspaper management is different from other managements. We take our tempo from the editorial. We work at high speed. We are, I think, the only industry—apart perhaps from the bakery industry—which sells its own product within two or three hours of its manufacture. This means that we have to make quick decisions—perhaps wrong ones, but quick ones. A previous managing director of the company for which I work once said to me, "I take six or seven major decisions a day, and surely to God! one of them must be right." From personal experience, I know that there are few newspaper managers who dare to be out of touch with their departments for more than an hour or two, even at night. Like doctors they are constantly on call. That, to me, is the fun of it; but it demands a very special type of man.
We live from hand to mouth, and the ordinary rules do not always apply. That does not mean, of course, that we should not be planning in the long term—and I am sure that we do not do enough of that. But, as I soon learned when I left the Civil Service, where I was for ten years, you cannot carry on in newspapers as you do in an ordinary, slow-moving organisation, commercial or otherwise. When I joined as foreign manager of the group I had fine ideas of cutting down costs by making our foreign correspondents and photographers work for all three of our papers. I quickly learned that this was "not on"; that each individual newspaper is a law to itself. I wanted to introduce a central registry, so that all papers and correspondence might be available to everyone. That was laughed to scorn. Each department kept, and still keeps, 547 its correspondence to itself. In 19 years of management in the industry I have accumulated the contents of nearly 50 filing cabinets. No one but myself and my secretary knows what is in them. Even I do not know any more—perhaps it is just as well. When I am fired or retired one day, there will be an almighty bonfire.
My Lords, that blessed word "co-ordination.", which to me, as a civil servant at one time, was almost a religious belief, is a dirty word in Fleet Street. Far from getting, as the Intelligence Unit suggests, co-operation between rival newspapers, it will be difficult to get it even inside one newspaper. Call these things weaknesses if you like, my Lords—perhaps they are. But I think they are being slowly broken down. We are beginning to realise that we cannot go on having fun in our little private cells, minding our own and nobody else's business, and that we have to get closer together inside our own companies and inside the industry generally. About time, too!
Last of all, the editorial—and there is no need, I think, for lengthy comment on this. There is one fact which counts; and one fact only. It has already been stated, and it is this. However good a management, it cannot sell a newspaper which people do not want to buy. That rule applies, of course, to any manufactured product. Conversely, I believe it to be true that a newspaper which people like will sell itself even though the management be not altogether efficient. It is the product that counts. The News-Chronicle was a high-class newspaper. Everyone admired it. It died. Everyone went to the funeral and cried a bit. My Lords, I am against funerals; but of one thing I am certain, and that is that if you continue to produce popular newspapers of high quality which do not sell, the undertakers are going to have more work to do.
There is nothing new in the situation which confronts us to-day. It was bound to come, I think. Three years ago, in his maiden speech in your Lordships' House, the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford, warned us of the dangers. Commenting, in a rather purple passage, on his words, I said: 548Let us at least have a united Newspaper Proprietors' Association and a united association of unions.…Because if this is not done, and done soon, there is going to be an almighty crash.Then I said, presumptuously, perhaps:I beg both sides of the industry to stop behaving like small children. Are they now at last going to see the writing on the wall of the house in which they live? Are they at last going to put that house in order? Do they want to destroy it?Seemingly, one and all were determined to destroy their house. It looks as though they have nearly succeeded. The prospects are grim, and the redundancy notices flutter around. Some of them, I am told, have already settled. More, no doubt, will follow.
Here, on this note of ancestral gloom, I am tempted to end my speech—but, of course, I cannot, for there are other things to be said. What is important, to my mind, in the Economist Report is not the mass of verbiage and information it contains, most of which was known to the industry already, but the foreword of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin. In his last two paragraphs he summarises the situation—and how one envies the clarity of the legal mind! He says this:If the report is right, greater efficiency is not the complete answer. The forecast is that before this decade ends, if present trends continue, three more national dailies and one more national Sunday will have gone.…Of course the newspaper industry can make savings by better management and greater productivity, and that is true of most industries in Britain today. This must indeed be achieved and should prove at least a partial salvation. But what the report says is that for national newspapers as a whole greater efficiency and greater productivity will not be enough. If the public want only a few good national newspapers, it can go on having them at the price it pays. But if it wants more, I doubt if it can.In other words, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, is saying that, put our affairs in order as we may—even if we save the £5 million which the Report says we could and should—it is still not enough. In simple terms, if we maintain our selling price to the public at its present level, certain newspapers are bound to disappear.
What then can we, and should we, do? To raise the price of the popular newspapers would be economically justifiable, I think. Since 1939, when the selling price of a popular newspaper was 1d. the 549 cost of raw materials and labour has gone up six times. Yet the present price is only four times higher. Moreover, as we know, British newspapers are still the cheapest in the world. The question is: Would the public be willing to buy the popular newspapers at that increased price—say, 6d.—and would those newspapers which are making vast profits at the present price of 4d. be willing to agree to a price increase? Their proprietors might well think that by keeping their present price they would destroy their rivals even more quickly. My Lords, I do not know the answer to these questions. Nor does anyone. But I should have thought it a matter worthy of urgent consideration by the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, aided by intensive market research. And if the "big boys" refuse to put up their prices with the others, we shall know, however specious their excuses, that what they want to do is to put their flagging competitors out of business.
My Lords, though the future is dark indeed, let me end on an optimistic note. What is this crisis all about? It is a crisis of advertising. If there had not been a freeze, causing the advertisers to withdraw, we should not be speaking in these doleful terms to-day. Personally, I am glad that this crisis has come. Better now than too late. But we can hope, I think, that it is only temporary. After all, the Government cannot keep up the squeeze for ever. One day, unless Britain herself goes bankrupt, there will be a letup, and the advertisers will come back: perhaps not to the same extent, but come back they will. Then, once again, if only for a short time, all will be feasting and fun. But at least Fleet Street will have had a shock—a shock big enough, perhaps, to make all concerned realise that their house has been undermined, and that if they continue to eat away at its foundations, built on the sands of advertising, it will fall in ruins about them. My Lords, we have had our last warning. Let us hope that we shall cease to be stupid. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ THE EARL. OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has spoken with his usual charm and style, and pointedness. We are all grateful to him for initiating this debate. His speech 550 was marred for some of us, perhaps, by one blemish—his somewhat obsessional attitude towards the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. The noble Earl seems to have quite a "thing" about Lord Thomson of Fleet. Most of us are inclined to look upon Lord Thomson of Fleet as a benevolent avuncular figure, but the noble Earl produces him as someone positively sinister. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, is here, we are glad to see, to defend himself. He does not need me to look after him. A man who has acquired 140 papers does not need any protection from any kind of politician. But it is only right to say that if the Government took anything like the same view of Lord Thomson of Fleet as is taken by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, they would never have sanctioned the new proposals for The Times. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, as he has very candidly told us, is one of Lord Rothermere's directors, one of his leading young men—or, shall I say one of the youngest of his leading men.
§ VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE
My Lords, I should like to remind the noble Earl that he himself was once one of my young men.
§ The EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, that is true; but I did not last very long. I was asked to write a leading article on the hobble skirt—and it did not come up to standard. The noble Viscount, I am glad to think, will also be giving us an account of his own philosophy of newspapers and, at the end of the day, the House will be able to judge between these rival potentates, the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, both equally acceptable and welcome in this House and in this debate as are all the other Press Lords who are taking part and any other noble Lords not connected with the Press who have ventured to intrude on this family party.
I will add only this on the question of The Times merger. In the Monopolies and Mergers Act 1965, a duty was laid on the Board of Trade to refer any major newspaper merger to the Monopolies Commission and to ask the Commission for an opinion on whether or not such a merger would be in the public interest. In the recent case of the Thomson Organisation and The Times, the Board of Trade appointed additional members to 551 the Commission, to be members of the group to discharge the Commission's functions, including two Members of your Lordships' House who I am glad to see are speaking to-day, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams. The Report of the Commission, published last month, concludes, as we all know, that the proposed arrangement was not contrary to the public interest; and that is a conclusion with which the Government are in agreement. In fact, the Commission concluded that there was no alternative in sight at the time of the investigation which gave firm ground for confidence that The Times would be kept in being.
I cannot help adding this as a personal conviction. I am quite sure myself that a man like Sir William Haley, so intimately informed and yet so completely disinterested, would never have agreed, in any circumstances, to proposals which were likely to lower The Times in public esteem. Most noble Lords will join me in sending a message of encouragement—and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is with me in this—to the brilliant young editor who is taking on this tremendous assignment.
I should remind the House that at the beginning of this month the Prime Minister warned the nation about what he calledthe present grave position in Britain's newspaper industry".I think that way of putting it is fairly well accepted by now; certainly it would be accepted by the noble Earl who moved this Motion. The Prime Minister also proclaimed the doctrine—and I think this would be agreed even more widely—that:in a free and democratic country such as ours the British people need and are entitled to demand a free Press representing every point of view.Most of us can probably agree also with the corollary that this country needs something like the present number of national newspapers.
These reflections provide the background for this discussion to-day; but another that I imagine will also be generally acceptable is that there are few industries where Government intervention must be approached with quite so much 552 caution. The Prime Minister himself referred to the appalling risks involved. The whole principle of a free Press, on which we pride ourselves with some justification, might actually be endangered and would certainly seem to be endangered by any Government step that placed newspapers under any obligation to the Government of the day.
If indeed the public are entitled, as I have suggested, to demand an adequate number and variety of papers, it is quite peculiarly difficult to make that demand effective. We cannot—and none of us wishes to—force private citizens to run newspapers if they do not want to and if they do not pay. The Government must be very careful about trying to put matters right by initiatives of its own. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, said recently that any sort of help from the Government for Fleet Street would be—and I think I am quoting his words correctly—the beginning of the end of a free and independent Press.Those are his words and not mine; but I certainly do not wish to raise any hope that the Government are likely to play the part of a Good Samaritan towards the stricken figures by the roadside. That is not the same thing as saying that we opt instead for the role of the priest or Levite who went by on the other side with a fine show of unconcern. We feel genuine concern, as I hope will become evident in this debate.
My Lords, with so many experts taking part in this debate I must try to be fairly brief. I will say nothing, for example, about television, except to point out that the net effect of commercial television, as many of us know, has been to draw away from the Press advertising revenue which it would otherwise have had and which would have been sufficient, as the Prime Minister pointed out, to guarantee viability on a much smaller circulation. I will concentrate attention on the comprehensive Report which was prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit and referred to by the noble Earl. We can pay sincere tribute to the work of the Economist Intelligence Unit without treating it as Holy Writ or—and the noble Earl will agree with me—attributing Divine infallibility to the particular comparisons it seeks to draw within the industry.
553 According to the Unit, the International Publishing Corporation and the Thomson Organisation are accorded the highest marks. I certainly do not grudge their laurels to Mr. Cecil King, who preserves so effectively his air of mystery, or to Lord Thomson of Fleet, who throws himself so disarmingly open to the world. I am inclined myself to be biased in favour of these two eminent gentlemen, if only because they have achieved their greatest successes in the full ripeness of years—after 70 in the one case and after 60 in the other. There is far too much of a tendency these days to suppose that youth or young middle age possesses a monopoly of dynamism and grit (or grittiness, or whatever the word is) and abrasiveness and all the other modern virtues. I like to see a couple of "oldsters"(if I may use that term) making good in a very big way. So I have no possible prejudice against them apart from my personal liking for them both.
It is not absolutely necessary to assume that Mr. Cecil King and Lord Thomson of Fleet are more efficient than their rivals. I have a great deal of sympathy with some comments that are to be found in some other newspapers, the rival newspapers. A leading article in the Daily Telegraph, for example, pointed out—and I quote:Newspapers adversely reported on by this standard arc shown by the Report to have just as high a productivity as the rest. Two of the only three national morning newspapers now making profits, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express, come in for much criticism by the E.I.U. standard.And a sharper comment is added which I withhold from the House. I repeat that it is not essential to accept all these particular comparisons. Sir Max Aitken, on behalf of the Daily Express, insists that the Report ignores the vital ingredients which make a newspaper. But the Daily Telegraph itself, which has just as little cause to love this Report, magnanimously concludes—and again I quote:This report will be of great value.Certainly that is how I see it; and, what is more important, the Government see it as representing great and lasting value. We must surely accept as broadly correct its account of recent trends and pay great attention, to say the least—again not accepting them as infallible—to the forecasts made in this Report about the immediate future.
554 What have been the outstanding features of recent years? Total circulation, as is pointed out, is declining, though the absolute decline is not considerable since the Shawcross Commission reported in 1962. All, however, is not black in the picture. The movement into quality papers can be regarded by most of us with satisfaction, and I would venture to suggest, though it is a matter of opinion, that the popular papers have improved themselves during the last few years. The Report points out that in view of the increased number of pages sold over the last five years, the newspaper industry cannot be said to have contracted during that period. But costs have certainly increased faster than revenue, and the heavy reliance on advertising has high-lighed the gravity of the problem since advertising has been so abnormally reduced in the last half of 1966.
My Lords, on the face of it, the industry, taking it as a whole, is making tolerable profits. But when one looks into the matter at all closely, guided by the Report, one immediately comes across the glaring contrast between the fortunes of some papers and of others. For example, according to the Report only three of the eight national daily papers, excluding the Financial Times (whose general manager, I am glad to think, will be addressing us later) are operating at a profit, the remainder being supported by other activities. So much for the present situation.
One can obviously speak with less confidence about the future, even the immediate future, but no well-informed person will dispute the view of the Report that the industry as a whole is likely to face a very difficult period over the next five years. The Report concludes that of the eighteen newspapers considered in this forecast probably only nine can be reasonably certain of making a profit. If the present cost structure remains unchanged—I emphasis and repeat those words: if the present cost structure remains unchanged—they consider it is likely that the following types of newspapers may be forced to cease publication in the next five years: one quality daily newspaper, two popular daily newspapers and one quality Sunday newspaper. If this occurs, it certainly will not be the end of the world, but most of us feel that it would be a bad and 555 retrograde day for Britain. I agree, therefore, with the seriousness of the warning that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, issued to his colleagues and to all of us. He has warned us of the fate which awaits the industry if the skeleton is simply put back into the cupboard and nothing drastic is done to put matters right in the future. I agree with him.
There is a danger, perhaps—I do not say that the noble Earl fell into it—that some of the conclusions of this Report, taken out of context, may be understood in too pessimistic a sense. Certainly the Government see nothing inevitable about the possible disappearance of four newspapers. After all, the Report itself only says that that is what will happen if the present cost structure remains unchanged; and there is every reason, heaven knows!, for changing it. The Government believe that the criticisms both of management and trade union practice contained in the Report are broadly justified. I quote a few sentences among many of the conclusions on this point.
Manning standards are usually set by horse trading, and often bear little relationship to the needs of the job. The present wages structure is a jungle. Many departments arc heavily over manned. Many department supervisors have little or no authority over the staff in their department. There is little training of either management or trade unions.The noble Earl illustrated the same points in perhaps a more concrete way.
My Lords, against that background who can say, here and now, what is the limit to the economies which could reasonably be achieved? The scope for economies, for more efficient management at all levels and for full utilisation of labour and modern equipment are immense, and it would be impossible to forecast them accurately at this moment. The E.I.U. Survey tried to quantify the savings which it sees as readily achievable, but it emphasises that its estimates are cautious and underestimate the true potential. The Survey makes projections, as I have said, showing that, assuming existing conditions continue—always on that assumption—the number of newspapers may contract in a certain way. But the premise of that is that the industry will do nothing, or virtually nothing, and will allow existing condi- 556 tions to continue; and particularly will allow production costs to rise at 5.9 per cent. per annum.
Surely these assumptions would not be accepted by any of us as public men. There are indeed, in the long run, many problems, fundamental, underlying problems, and the Government have said, and they repeat to-day, that they are ready to show as helpful an attitude as possible. But the immediate task is to see what can be achieved by greater efficiency.
My Lords, I hope that it will not be argued here (it certainly was not argued by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, but one hears the argument) that modern business methods and good journalism are incompatible. It is possible that here again the Report might be misunderstood by its special use of words. Its highest praise is to describe the policy of a paper—and this is a phrase they use—as "unequivocably commercial", and a company as "profit orientated and cost-conscious at all levels". This is the highest kind of praise. There seems in this Survey too sharp a contrast between efficient, business-like papers on the one hand and, on the other hand, papers which seek to put over ideas which stand for a propagandist cause or, as they might think, an educational purpose. Take only one instance, the Daily Mirror. Its commercial efficiency is rightly praised in the Report. After all, the Daily Mirror has been associated with many well-known causes appealing to a great number of us, including the Common Market, where the motivation would certainly not appear to be commercial. So I do not think that we must draw this sharp contrast between the commercial and the paper of ideas.
There is, perhaps, in the Report some neglect or underplaying of the element of public service which one is entitled to expect from a national newspaper. In this connection the names of The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian spring first to mind. But this same obligation of performing a public service is surely recognised to a greater or less extent by all the reputable popular papers also. It may well be felt that the Report lays insufficient emphasis on the creative aspect of running a newspaper, and assumes too readily that a newspaper can be managed on much the same lines 557 as any industrial unit. Nevertheless, when all this is said (and these criticisms, in my eyes, carry quite a lot of weight) the Report does well to bring home to all of us that, while a newspaper cannot be run on factory lines, it cannot survive economically—to quote or to confirm what was said by the noble Earl—if it ignores modern business techniques. In other words, a high degree of managerial efficiency, much higher than we have seen hitherto on the average, is a minimum condition of rendering any public service at all, because without it the paper simply will not continue to exist.
My Lords, the waste and excessive costs in the national newspaper industry have long been known and have been discussed in this House more than once. From time to time particular actions by managements or labour have received public attention. But the Joint Board has shown foresight and courage in commissioning the Economist Intelligence Unit to make a comprehensive survey of the industry. The Joint Board itself has not yet had time to consider the Survey, but when it has had time to consider it we are confident that the industry will use the Survey as a tool for this constructive purpose.
Of course, the Survey contains criticisms, some stated in forthright terms. The existence of overmanning in the industry, for example, cannot be any longer disputed, in view of the Report. But if each management and union were now to apply its energies to picking out weaknesses and putting them right, the purpose for which the Survey was commissioned would be achieved. The Government do not underestimate the difficulties which the industry must face in making the radical changes which must be made to meet the problems in this Survey. What is called for is a great change in attitude on the part of both management and employees.
As I said when I began, the importance of a Press free to express every point of view is recognised as paramount on all sides. The objective of a free Press requires that the initiative for improving its economic position should come in the first place from the industry itself. How far can all these grave problems be overcome by changes in management practices, by the more efficient utilisation of labour, and by improved production tech- 558 niques? The answers to these questions must depend primarily on the effectiveness of action which the industry itself will be prepared to take, following its consideration of this important Survey. The Government, of course, will study the various suggestions that have been made for safeguarding the independence, variety and freedom of expression of the Press. If there were an approach from the industry to the Government, we should naturally consider carefully any proposals made to us. But the first essential is that the industry should itself tackle this problem.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I feel that I should almost apologise to your Lordships for intervening in this debate, since I think that I am one of the few of those speaking who has no financial interest, is not a contributor, and has no special knowledge of the industry we are discussing this afternoon. I will, however, promise to be short and, I hope, to the point, and perhaps it is not an entirely bad thing that a very average consumer of newspapers should intervene amongst a bevy of experts.
In common, I imagine, with most of us, I am an avid reader of newspapers and greatly look forward every morning—except on those occasions, happily for the moment past, when I am the object of their displeasure or their derision—to the arrival of my newspapers. I am interested by them, entertained by them, and I anticipate with pleasure on weekdays, and particularly on Sundays, when there is more time, the arrival of my newspapers.
I think that we in this country are singularly fortunate in having so wide a range from which to choose. Whatever our tastes, we can find something to suit us. I do not think that there is another country in the world which has nine national morning newspapers, not to speak of many excellent provincial newspapers, like the Yorkshire Post and the Western Morning News, to name but two, from which to choose. In fact, there is not all that number of countries in the world which has a national Press. Most cities have, perhaps, two morning and two evening newspapers, or one evening, or perhaps not even as much as that. In Sydney, for example, there are two morning and two evening newspapers; and in 559 Melbourne, two morning and one evening newspaper.
Perhaps I may say in passing, though I shall return to this point a little later, that during the time I lived in Australia I certainly did not find that the citizens of Sydney or Melbourne were noticeably less well-informed, less independent in their attitudes, or that they felt more deprived than the citizens of London by reason of having fewer papers from which to choose.
We are therefore singularly fortunate at the present time in this country, not only because we have a choice, but because I think that it would be, true to say that in the last 10 to 15 years there has been a quite remarkable improvement in the quality of our newspapers. And I do not mean only the papers known as the "quality dailies". I think that if there were to be a comparison between the contents of the popular newspapers now and 15 years ago, it would be very noticeable how much more serious they have become, how many more serious items of news are published prominently, and how much more serious are the editorials and specially commissioned articles. I should have thought that perhaps the Daily Mirror is a good case in point. Combined with that, there has been—and I think that this is a remarkable fact—an enormous increase in the readership of the quality daily papers. That is very cheerful. It is encouraging to notice that in the last 10 years the readership of the quality dailies has gone up by 450,000 and of the quality Sunday papers, by 1,500,000.
We have, therefore, generally speaking, a good Press, a large number of daily and Sunday newspapers, and the quality is rising all the time. This is a good situation, and if we were certain that it was going to continue there probably would have been no debate in this House this afternoon. But the trouble is that we are not at all sure that it will continue. My noble friend Lord Arran has analysed in his speech the difficulties which face the Press, and I suppose that it would be true to say that the recent take-over of The Times by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, together with the publication of the Economist Intelligence Unit Survey Report, has highlighted these difficulties.
560 I do not want to say anything very much about The Times issue, but I would agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House that my noble friend was a bit rough on the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. If I understood my noble friend aright—and perhaps I misunderstood him—he seems to think that it is very wicked that anyone should want to buy or own a newspaper and, even worse, having bought it, that he should want to make it pay. For the life of me, I cannot see why. So far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with owning a newspaper, and nothing wrong with making money out of it. Your Lordships will remember that Dr. Johnson said:There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.I have no doubt that later on the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, will testify to his innocence.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I was not saying that there is anything wrong in making money—I think it a splendid thing to do. The point is that The Times has not so far been primarily concerned with making money, and is now making this the main purpose. I think of it as a British institution, which is not there for that purpose.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not think that there is anything wrong with a good newspaper making money, and that is the point I was trying to make. I would only say to my noble friend that I do not entirely share his view of what one might call the old Times. I did not put it on quite the same pedestal. It was sometimes quite excellent and sometimes not; and that, I should have thought, is what happens to most newspapers. But it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, produces rather good newspapers. The Sunday Times, I should have thought, is unquestionably one of the finest Sunday newspapers in the world, at any rate of those that I have ever seen. It is not only a good newspaper, but it also makes money. If the same can be done with The Times as has been done with the Sunday Tunes, then none of us will have any cause for complaint—in fact, the very reverse. And I for one wish the new management of 561 The Times and, in particular, Mr. William Rees Mogg, good fortune. I have only one request to make of him. Would he please peg the Parliamentary page? It seems to wander from one end of the paper to the other, most inconveniently. Perhaps he would be kind enough to find a permanent home for it.
I suppose that one could say, broadly speaking, that there are four problems in the industry at the present time. They have been exhaustively discussed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and I do not intend—and indeed am not qualified—to go into them in any detail. I have no idea whether the Report was a fair one. Since I understand that it was not intended for publication, in some respects the language may not always be fair to management or unions. But I am quite certain that it was a good thing that it should have been published, and I think it was particularly creditable that the Guardian, who do not really come out of it very well, should have thought it their duty to publish it. After all, the Press are always saying that it is their duty to uncover and expose matters of this kind; they are very ready to do so in other fields, and it seems right to me that they should be prepared to do so in their own.
At any rate, nobody can now say that the matter has been hushed up, and there can be no suggestion that the problems which confront the Press have not been put quite clearly. They are, I suppose, management, labour and, above all, its restrictive practices. We are told in the Report that about £4 million could be saved if manpower were efficiently used. That must be the responsibility of the management. We all of us have examples of the restrictive practices which take place in the industry, and this matter is very fully ventilated in the Report.
I remember going the other day to see a newspaper being published which had recently re-equipped itself with the most modern presses. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my lack of technological education, I was greatly impressed. These machines seemed to me to do everything, and seemed to do it most efficiently and marvellously fast. As we followed the birth of the newspaper, we came to a large room where it was being despatched. The contrast 562 to me was quite remarkable. There were in this room a large number of people with pencils, writing addresses on envelopes and putting papers in separate covers, in a leisurely but, it seemed to me, a not very up-to-date fashion. Although even I could have suggested several ways in which this might have been improved, I am sure I should have been told that it was impossible. Nevertheless I am not prepared to believe that people who can employ and invent such machinery as I saw could not devise a better system of despatching their newspapers than the archaic one I witnessed that evening. One can guess at the real reason for what I saw. And, of course, there are no doubt many examples of that kind which are just as much the fault of managements as they are the fault of the unions. But, my Lords, the problems are well-known, and it is up to the industry to put its own house in order. I do not believe that any preaching from Parliament will do much good, or indeed will be very well received.
Then there is the problem of advertising revenue, which was touched on by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. It is obviously true that the introduction of commercial television has made a difference to the share of advertising which the newspapers have. But it is a rather surprising fact that the amount of advertising revenue which went to television companies has hardly increased since 1960. In 1960 it was £80 million; and the most recent estimates put it last year at about £83 million. It is said—I do now know how true this is—that television advertising has virtually reached a ceiling; that is to say, if the I.T.A. restrict advertising time to six minutes an hour. It is said that there is virtually no room for an increase in advertising, since the time of most television companies is already fully booked. Of course, this could change if there were a second commercial channel. But this has been made impossible, at any rate for the next three years, by the Government's White Paper on Broadcasting.
So it would seem to be fair to argue that the initial impact of commercial television on newspaper finances was in part blunted by a general increase in advertising revenue, and that, in any event, the impact has not been particularly severe during the last few years. Anyway, this 563 is obviously something that the newspapers have to live with, because I do not believe that anybody would suggest as a solution that I.T.V. should be closed down in order that one or two newspapers may be solvent. Not that it is at all certain that those newspapers which are in the most difficulties would benefit much, since advertisers on the whole would choose those newspapers which are doing the best, and which have the largest circulation. I think it is much more likely that the bulk of the fall in advertising revenue has been due more to the Government's economic squeeze than to television; and since it is, presumably, precisely what the Government intend, it would not be very logical for them to exempt the newspaper industry from the consequences of a deliberate act of policy, nor, indeed, would it be very sensible.
Sir Max Aitken put it very clearly when he said: "Should our industrialists and suppliers be blamed for not advertising? Of course not. They have simply been exercising prudence. How could they be expected to launch great new advertising campaigns in present economic conditions—conditions deliberately imposed by the Government?"
Lastly, as both previous speakers pointed out, there has been a fall in the total readership, though it is still very large. Here, perhaps I might say something which may be considered a little more delicate. Those connected with the Press often say that falling circulations of certain newspapers are due to such factors as I have already mentioned: poor management and union relations, and restrictive practices. But there could be another reason for loss of readership and for the loss of advertising revenue. Might it not be that the successful newspapers are better newspapers? Might it not be that more people read them than the less successful just for that reason? They are better presented, more readable, better edited and have better material. No doubt that is not the whole truth, but surely it is a large part of it. And here again the remedy lies in the hands of those who own, edit and contribute to the newspapers.
These, then, are the problems. What are the remedies? As I have said, my Lords, I think the remedy lies largely in the hands of the newspapers them- 564 selves. They must be efficient. They must put their house in order. They must manager their affairs better, and they must tackle the problem of restrictive practices. No doubt a number have done so, and are doing so at this moment. But what if, having done that, they are still unable to break even or to make a profit? Broadly speaking, it seems to me that there are three things that could happen. The most obvious is that any newspaper to which this applies will become insolvent and cease publication. All of us would very much regret to see the death of any newspaper at present being published and let us hope that this can be avoided. But in the last resort, I do not believe it would be absolutely calamitous that one or two newspapers should die.
After all, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, we have nine national morning newspapers and seven or eight Sunday newspapers. This is more than anyone else. Coupled with that, we have three television channels and 1,500 or more local newspapers, many of them excellent and with a very wide readership. I do not think it is a valid point to say that freedom of speech, opinion and comment would be in danger, in the unhappy event of the demise of one or two of our morning or Sunday newspapers, much though it would be regretted for many reasons, and not least the loss of employment which it would mean to those who work for newspapers.
The second alternative which might prevent this seems to be much worse than the death of one or two newspapers. The Government could interfere in some way, either by subsidising newsprint, or what have-you. My Lords, I very much hope that the Government will do no such thing. I hope that the Government will stay right out of it, and not interfere in any way. It does not seem to me that there is any good reason why the newspaper industry should be singled out for a Government subsidy. There would be great dangers in such a course for the newspapers themselves, and indeed for all of us. I do not know where it would end or what the consequences would be.
The third possibility would be to increase the price of the newspapers. Perhaps we do get our newspapers rather cheaply; and perhaps rather a large proportion of the income of a newspaper 565 comes from advertising revenue rather than from the sale of the newspaper. For instance, I saw in the E.I.U. Report that 72 per cent. of the revenue of the Daily Telegraph comes from advertising, but only 33 per cent. in the case of the Daily Mirror—figures which may or may not be significant. I quite understand the difficulty about raising the price. Obviously, the weaker newspapers would have to do so before the stronger, and this would accentuate the loss of circulation and the loss of advertising revenue. But certainly raising the price should be one of the considerations to he taken into account.
And so, my Lords, to sum up, I hope very much that we shall still continue to have the same choice of daily and Sunday newspapers that we have at the present time. I greatly hope that the improvement in quality and quality readership will continue. I believe that the remedies for the troubles of the industry are largely in the hands of the industry itself. I would greatly oppose Government interference, and even if the consequence of this were the disappearance of one or two more newspapers, I believe that that is a price we should pay, however regrettable, rather than see the State interfere in such an important and vital industry.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ LORD SHAWCROSS
My Lords, I am one of those, in the language of the noble Earl, who has, perhaps unwisely, ventured to intrude his voice upon your Lordships' discussion of this matter. I must at the outset make at least two apologies. One is that by some mischance of fate the lot should have fallen to me to speak so early in this debate; the other is to say at once that I do not pretend for a moment to be an expert in these matters concerning the Press—or indeed in anything else. But, my Lords, I must, I think, declare an interest—indeed, two interests—in that I am a director of a firm publishing two newspapers which your Lordships all read, or ought to read; and that four or five years ago I was Chairman of a Royal Commission which inquired into these problems, particularly these economic problems, of the Press.
As to the first of these matters, I intend to say nothing of any direct bearing upon the two newspapers involved, whose 566 future is, I hope, now sufficiently assured and both of which, I hope, under their new editorial direction, and still presided over by Sir William Haley as chairman of the company, will continue to maintain the great traditions so well maintained by Lord Astor of Hever and his family, to whose services to the British Press I feel we should all wish to pay some tribute.
It would be quite inappropriate for me to say anything about Lord Thomson of Fleet, but I cannot refrain from just saying this. Four or five years ago, when the Royal Commission on the Press was sitting, it heard a great deal from Lord Thomson of Fleet—Mr. Thomson, I think he was then; I had not the privilege of his acquaintance. We were greatly interested in Mr. Thomson's activities as the proprietor of a considerable group of newspapers, one which we thought likely at that time to expand, and we were impressed by his own evidence to us that he was not in the least interested in political power or in influencing through his newspapers political opinion. We made some examination of the considerable number of newspapers that he controlled, and we found that all the evidence pointed to his own view being correct; in fact a variety of editorial opinion was being expressed, and one could find one newspaper advocating, perhaps, entry into the Common Market, and another newspaper, under a different editor, opposing it. This is something which it is only fair to say and something we should bear in mind.
As to the matter of my interest as Chairman of the Royal Commission and the members, I would say this. I have always taken the view that when a Royal Commission, or any other similar official body of inquiry, has reported, while of course its conclusions are open to public discussion and debate, its members, and particularly perhaps its Chairman, are not called upon to explain, to defend, and still less to advocate, the opinions which have been expressed in its Report. Accordingly, although there has in this past four or five years been a good deal of discussion about the Report of that Royal Commission, I have hitherto refrained from taking any part at all in it, because I thought it is not appropriate for the members of a Royal Commission which has delivered its opinion to take 567 any part in the subsequent battle about the correctness of that opinion. They should be hors de combat in that respect.
To-day, however, the position is very different. Your Lordships are discussing the matter in new circumstances and in the light of a new Report commissioned by the Press itself; and if, as is the fact, the new Report endorses and underlines what was said by the Royal Commission five years ago, and to some extent repeated quite recently in a Report by the Prices and Incomes Board on the printing industry, I can only congratulate those concerned on their wisdom in agreeing with the conclusions which my colleagues and I reached those many years ago. I emphasise that because these matters concerning the economic position of the Press have really been studied to the full over and over again, and there is no longer any room for doubt about the basic factors which are affecting the newspapers. Of course, there may be—and I expect we shall hear some to-day—arguments about details. Some interested party may say that this point or that point in the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit had never been put to him, and that if it had been put to him he might have found this answer to it or that answer. I hope we shall not allow ourselves in the course of this discussion to get bogged down in details of that kind, but that we shall look at the whole of the problem in the broad way, in which alone it can usefully be considered in your Lordships' House.
I am very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has raised this matter for discussion in your Lordships' House, for I am convinced that the continued existence of a free Press is something which is absolutely vital to the continuance of a healthy democratic society in this country. I would emphasise that, because in the Report of the Royal Commission over which I presided there was one paragraph which might have been thought to suggest that the influence of the Press was no longer quite so important as it once had been. That was, of course, a relative observation. I recall the time when the advertising slogan of a very famous periodical was, "If it is in John Bull it is so", and a great many people believed that it was. Taking it more broadly, a vast section 568 of the population in those days thought that if it was in print anywhere it must be true. Nowadays the reading public is slightly—I say only slightly—more educated than it was in those days, more sophisticated, and moreover it has in the radio and the television other sources of information. None the less, it would be a grave mistake to underestimate the importance and the influence of a free Press.
The news coverage in the newspapers is necessarily much larger than it can possibly be on the radio or the television. Again, the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. express no opinions of their own upon political or social problems. Nor should they. It is true, of course, that they put across the views of Mr. Frost or Mr. Lennon of the Beatles, of Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, Mr. Kenneth Home, Mr. Muggeridge, Mr. Murdoch, and all the rest; but these views are so varied, and often so conflicting, that they can hardly be said to be an important factor in forming or creating a public opinion. Moreover there are many matters, matters of public criticism, matters of attack, matters of exposure or disclosure, with which neither the B.B.C. nor the I.T.A. can appropriately deal. Only the Press remains completely independent of the establishment, able fearlessly to inform, to criticise and to advise. This is an absolutely vital function, in a free society, and anything that threatens the continuance of the exercise of this function is a grave matter indeed.
But, my Lords, grave as the threat is—and I do not for a moment minimise it—only the Press can find a solution to these problems. When I say "the Press" I include, of course, all the elements of the Press: the management, the journalists and, not least, the production workers. My Lords, it is a complete illusion, and a dangerous illusion, to suppose that there is any form of Governmental or Parliamentary intervention which could assist the Press and at the same time keep it free and independent. Of course, there are many devices by which the Government and Parliament could assist the newspapers. There might be cheaper postages, better capital allowances; there might be lower taxation on newspapers. If these devices or others of that kind were applied equally to all newspapers it would leave the competitive position of each newspaper exactly the 569 same as it was before, and the danger that exists to particular newspapers would remain exactly the same after those concessions had been allowed to the Press as a whole. If, on the other hand, devices of that kind were applied on a selective basis to those newspapers which appeared to be in the greater economic difficulty, then the discrimination which would have to be exercised by some Government Department or ad hoc body would obviously at once destroy the freedom of the Press.
Then there might be, as some people have suggested, some sort of national Press corporation, or some sort of cooperative printing organisation. The practical difficulties of that kind of arrangement were so great that the Royal Commission of 1961 and the earlier RoyalCommission—and we have had two since the last war, the other one in 1949—could devise no acceptable or practicable scheme whatever by which a method of this kind could be used. If one were to establish some sort of system of this kind for the cheaper printing of newspapers by a national corporation or on a co-operative basis, or for the subsidising of newsprint, or something of that sort, either all newspapers would benefit from them equally, in which case, as in the case of the other techniques to which I referred, the competitive position of each newspaper would be left absolutely unaltered, or only some would be permitted to benefit and others would not. Then, of course, which? Would it be the Daily Worker, but not the New Daily? The Ian Smith News Letter, but not the Licensed Victuallers Chronicle? One has only to pose questions of that kind to see how impossible it is to find the answers.
There are also the devices which have been suggested and which would seek to deflect and alter the operation of the existing competitive pressures which are affecting the Press and resulting in some newspapers ceasing to be economically viable. There is, for instance, the tax which was suggested on a newspaper's advertising revenue when it reached something above a certain level. In 1961, Mr. Kaldor suggested before the Royal Commission a scheme which would have made it financially punitive for, say, the Daily Express or the Daily Mirror to have a circulation of more than 2 million. I think 1 million was 570 his original figure as the proper circulation for a popular newspaper, but later he conceded that perhaps 2 million might not altogether unreasonably be allowed. My Lords, freedom of the Press means the freedom to publish as many million copies of a newspaper, a pamphlet, a book, or whatever it may be, as is desired, and it implies also freedom on the part of all of us—I mean of every citizen—whether it is 1 million citizens or 4 million citizens, to read the newspaper of our choice. Any method of that kind would immediately entrench upon the freedom of the Press.
Then there is the possibility of some device which would restrict the space which newspapers could allot to advertising in their columns. It might be said that the proportion of advertising to news or editorial matter should be only 30 per cent., or 40 per cent., or 25 per cent., or whatever it might be. A rule like that might be applied, for instance, if I may say so in the presence of Lord Thomson of Fleet, to the Sunday Times. It might be said that in future the Sunday Times was to devote only 20 per cent. of its space to advertising. Is it to be supposed that the advertisers who hitherto preferred the Sunday Times would immediately switch their advertising to the Sunday Citizen? The suggestion has only to be mentioned to see the absurdity of it. This is not a method which would assist the newspapers which are now running into economic difficulties.
If you had an absolute standard as to the proportion of space which might be allotted to advertising on the one hand, and editorial and news matter on the other, if it were absolute, then the scheme would work capriciously. If you had—as you would need to have in any of these schemes, to make the techniques work—a differential standard, if you said that the News of the World could allocate 20 per cent. of its space, the Sunday Citizen 50 per cent. of its space, and so on, then you would immediately introduce discrimination between one paper and another, and that would at once destroy the freedom of the Press. There is, in truth—and both the Royal Commissions considered this with the greatest anxiety and care—no method, no statutory method, which, without discrimination between different newspapers, 571 could make any significant contribution to maintaining the variety and independence of the Press. Inquiry after Inquiry has made that abundantly clear. Nor can Government help, in whatever form it might be given, be given without in the end the Press having at some point to recognise the obligations which it had incurred.
Is this then a counsel of despair about the future of the Press? Must we accept the gradual extinction of newspaper after newspaper? My Lords, it is not. The need is for the Press itself to find a solution to its problems; for the Press alone can do this if freedom of the Press is to be maintained. I have no doubt that, given the combination of three factors, which as the Economist Intelligence Unit's Report has pointed out do not always exist in combination at present, we can maintain in this country—I do not say all the newspapers which exist to-day, but a sufficient variety of newspapers to meet the needs of an educated democracy, and probably a much greater variety and quality than exists in any other country in the world.
I say there are three factors. I am not attempting to put them in any order of priority, but I take first the question of good management. Real management in a stern and practical and critical business sense is lacking in some newspapers, and it is what is required. As the noble Earl the Leader of the House has pointed out, broadly, but not always, the criteria for good management are the same as in other industrial activities. I say "not always" because, to take one example, the Economist Intelligence Unit may be quite in error in criticising, for instance, the Daily Express because it employs more journalists than other newspapers. This may be why the Daily Express is a brighter paper, enjoying a bigger circulation than some other newspapers. These are essentially matters for business managements and editorial directors to settle between them, having regard to the necessity for presenting a bright and attractive newspaper and for running that newspaper at a profit.
Secondly, of course, there must be good journalism, not attempting to cater for a nondescript readership but directed to suiting the highest common factor of the requirements of the particular class of 572 readership for which that newspaper is seeking to cater and which it wishes to attract. Legislation cannot do these things for the Press, but the Press itself has shown in the past that the quality of management and the quality of editorial direction can overcome great economic difficulties if it is exercised to the full. But one factor still remains. Even excellent management, even the highest quality of journalism, cannot overcome deliberate and calculated inefficiency in the production departments. I am not going to traverse this really rather shameful matter again. The Royal Commission on the Press, the Prices and Incomes Board, the recent Cameron Report on this scandalous state of affairs in one of the I.P.C. new shops where they had made a very heavy capital investment on new plant, and now, of course, the Economist Intelligence Unit—and, indeed, not least the Prime Minister in his recent speech and his forthright condemnation of the blackmail of these lightning, last-moment strikes—all these inquiries have demonstrated beyond doubt the gross, indeed the fantastic, inefficiency in the use of labour insisted upon by the vested interests of competing trade unions and too often acquiesced in by weak or complacent managements.
After a most careful study of the matter, the Royal Commission concluded that the industry was over manned by as much as 34 per cent., and one newspaper subsequently, by great firmness in its management, in fact proved that to be true. It dispensed with over 34 per cent. of its workpeople and is now producing more newspapers than it had ever produced before. I only wish that others had been equally successful. Similar events and similar attitudes to this on the part of vested interests in competing trade unions destroyed that great newspaper in New York, the New York Herald Tribune, and these methods, if they are not quickly and drastically abandoned here, will destroy many more newspapers in this country, and indeed destroy the British printing industry itself. We must praise the printing industry—and it was the joint board of the printing industry which decided to do this—for having instituted this inquiry by the Economist Intelligence Unit into its affairs. We must hope that both sides will act upon the conclusions which have been reached.
573 Let me, in conclusion, just add this. This story of inefficiency in the use of labour, of gross overmanning and of demarcation disputes, of weaknesses in management and lack of efficiency and direction, is writ large and dramatically in the case of the Press. But it is not the story of the Press alone. In many firms—not in all, but in large sections of British industry—similar conditions persist. And this is why this country has for years been firing on two cyclinders instead of six.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
My Lords, this is an important matter to which I think I can make a useful contribution. My view in this House has always been to confine my remarks to about fifteen minutes, but I am sorry that I cannot do that to-day. I hope noble Lords will pardon me if I try their patience, though I will endeavour not to do that, and I also hope that I shall be excused if I refer rather closely to my notes, because there are a great many points I want to make and I do not want to miss any. It is hardly necessary that I should declare my interests. The noble Earl who has initiated this debate has, I think, amply demonstrated that fact.
First, I will speak of the E.I.U. Report. It is a devastating indictment of Fleet Street. I believe that anyone who reads it will come to that conclusion. I say that it is a devastating indictment of Fleet Street and the national newspapers because the survey was conducted only in regard to the national newspapers. The situation with regard to the provincial papers is not so serious, although many of them have the same faults, as was voiced in the criticism in this Report. The Report, serious and condemnatory as it is, has attracted relatively little criticism from those concerned, and beyond a few statements that there are inaccuracies, I have seen no claims that challenge the general conclusions reached.
It is my opinion that the statements made, and the conclusions reached, are not only accurate in the main but, as might be expected in a Report of this kind, conservative. This Report was authorised by both the proprietors and the unions. There was no pressure, no indication from either side, that the E.I.U. were to do other than produce an absolutely unbiased report; they were to 574 give the facts and reach their conclusions without fear or favour. I say that the Report is conservative because I know that if a time-and-motion study were made it would be proven that much greater efficiency could be achieved, resulting, of course, in bigger savings. The number of men employed in Fleet Street newspapers is so large as to have no real relationship to the amount of work required to be done. This has come about over the years as a result of union demands and proprietor capitulations. If a new piece of equipment is to be installed, before it isaccepted—if it is accepted at all—irrespective of how many men are reasonably required, the union demands more, many more: on the basis, I am sure, that they will require so many men that no existing jobs can be eliminated and no savings can accrue to the publisher. That, in effect, completely frustrates plant modernisation and the ability to become more efficient.
The Report comments on wages. Some of these are certainly excessive—not in all departments, mostly in the production departments. But perhaps most interesting is the fact that in the case of many production workers wages actually paid have little relationship to the basic wage. The amount called for by industrial wage agreements seem to be just a figure on which to hang the extras. When we appeared before the Shawcross Commission on the Press we were asked to submit figures for one production department of our business showing basic wages as compared with actual wages earned in one particular week. The basic rate was £15 1s., whereas, including all house payments and extras, the amount paid was £38 13s. per man, and that was in 1961. To work £15 into £38 you have to have some weird and wonderful house payments, and some weird and wonderful ways of calculating extras to be tacked on to regular wages. I want to see high wages in the industry, but they must be tied to productivity.
The Report criticises some managements, and I am sure that anyone who has had experience of management techniques in other businesses or other countries would agree with those criticisms. It says that my own organisation and one other are efficient. I would say that we may be efficient by British standards but not by good Canadian or American 575 standards. I say that about my own outfit. Our directors and managers are very able men, and they operate our business as efficiently as possible. But how can we be really efficient when we have to fight our way through every progressive step, when new techniques are resisted, when we are forced to overman new machines?
Yes, there is some very amateur management on Fleet Street. It is a delicate matter to discuss the management of your opposition, but what appals me is that some of them do not even seem to realise their shortcomings, let alone what they should do about it. Those of your Lordships who saw some of the newspaper proprietors on television or read their remarks in the papers, must have been just as puzzled as I was. Either they just do not know what is the situation labourwise in their own businesses or they are afraid to tell the truth. I leave it to you to choose which it is. The noble Earl who initiated this debate is a director of the Daily Mail and General Trust Ltd., which is the controlling company of Associated Newspapers, which in turn includes the Daily Mail and Evening News. He is also a director of the Sketch.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
This is the latest information I can get. If he is not now, he was on the last list; he was a director for a time. I note that the E.I.U. Report does not include these papers in those which are described as efficiently managed. I quite concur in having an eccentric write a gossip column; it is good for circulation. But this is the type of amateur management which has resulted in the present sad state of the Press.
Some of those high in the ranks of labour, and in Government, too, have said that I should dig in my heels and refuse unreasonable demands. We did this recently in our Hemel Hempstead dispute, and this matter has now been satisfactorily resolved. But this was a new venture and I could dig in my heels. Without it I would lose all my investment. As it is, the delay has cost us well over £100,000. I could have lost £2 million in the investment. But I was 576 determined that someone has got to take a stand in this situation and do something about it. I would continent very briefly that, thanks to the intervention of the Minister of Labour, whose assistance I greatly valued, and of the T.U.C., for which I have the highest praise, and the eventual good sense of the two unions involved, the problem was solved. I also pay tribute to the words of the Prime Minister about the general situation in the printing business. His statement has had a great effect. It took lots of courage, but he has plenty of it. Let me tell you what the consequences can be now with an existing newspaper if you dig your heels in.
A few months ago there was a dispute in our press room between two unions over which man would do which job. They had previously been working together amicably for years. This dispute came up unexpectedly. As a result, production of the Sunday Times was seriously disrupted, and we lost over 400,000 copies. That cost us over 40,000 dollars—I am sorry: pounds: I still think in dollars—in lost sales, rebates to advertisers, hiring of extra transport, because of missed trains, as well as interruptions of reading habits of regular customers and resultant loss of good will.
When we are confronted with a last-minute demand for extra money, however unreasonable it might be, that would cost us less perhaps than £1,000, whereas to miss a single issue of the Sunday Times would involve a loss of £150,000. What are we expected to do? It is all right to be a martyr, but one cannot be at that kind of cost. It is easy to accuse management of giving in too easily to unreasonable demands, but remember that the reading life of a newspaper is only a few hours. Most of the expenses go on whether or not the paper comes out, and revenue lost can never be regained; whereas loss of production in almost any other kind of business can be recovered when work is resumed.
There seems to be general agreement to deplore the possibility of closure of more newspapers. In this I heartily concur. I agree that in a democracy the people should have access to a variety of opinions. There is another reason, a practical reason, why I. and I think all other newspaper proprietors, do not welcome closures. Newspapers as a group are competing for advertising revenue 577 with other media—television, magazines, posters and other fringe media. Every newspaper has advantages for advertising certain products and services. But if the choice of newspapers is too limited they are likely to opt for other media, and this would weaken newspapers in general as a dominant advertising medium. I do not want any existing newspaper to cease publication and I will do anything in reason to support this statement. I would point out in, proof of this, the generous concessions—and they were very generous concessions—that I made to the Observer and the Guardian in connection with The Times deal. But this does not prevent me from facing the facts and saying that the conclusions reached in the Report regarding likely closures are, in my opinion, correct.
What can be done about weak newspapers? They must get more revenue and/or cut their expenses. Obviously, if expenses can be cut, some at least of the newspapers will be saved. Both the Guardian and the Sun will carry on if they can make savings which they specify. They should be given every opportunity to make these savings. If substantial savings can be effected, other fringe papers can carry on, I hope, always in the hope that revenue can be improved. How can they get more income? Our experience shows that there is always more advertising to be obtained if you have facts and figures to prove to advertisers that your rates are economic for their particular product. This requires research and planning, and it requires strong selling. When a newspaper gets more advertising it does not necessarily come from other newspapers. There are many other media to draw from, but it requires forceful selling supported by research-produced facts and figures. Compared to Canada and the United States, we have not yet reached anything like an optimum level.
It is commonly said that if other newspaper closures take place there will not be enough left to give full scope to differing opinions. How many is "enough"? Nowhere in these islands can there be fewer than ten dailies—and in many places eleven—on your breakfast table every morning, with a similar number of Sunday papers. My Lords, are so many papers really needed? 578 Everywhere there is a local daily available to supplement the nationals; and if, as I fear and the Report indicates, the number of dailies were reduced even to four nationals and one or two locals, a choice of five or six would still be more than is available in other democratic countries. In Canada there is no city with more than one morning newspaper, except for Montreal, where there are French and English language papers. In the United States, New York has two; Los Angeles one; Philadelphia one; Chicago two, and Boston two. I think that every other city in the United States has only one, and there is no access to any other newspaper. As one noble Lord said (I think it was Lord Carrington), they do not seem to suffer under that condition; they seem to be as fully informed as people here. I wonder, when people talk about enough newspapers, how many is "enough".
It is very easy to strike a moral attitude when you have no responsibility and when your only concern is to put other people right. It is very easy to say that it would be a national catastrophe if this or that newspaper were obliged to close down. But surely the best judges of that are the readers of the newspaper in question, and the best measure of the strength of their feeling on the subject is what they are prepared to do about it. If its selling price were increased by, say, 3d. a copy, would they go on buying it? If so, the troubles of every ailing national newspaper would be over. And 3d. is not a large sum of money. It is the price of one cigarette, or half the price of a cup of tea in a cheap cafe, or one-sixth of the price of a pint of beer. Yet if the readers of a newspaper would not be prepared to demonstrate in this small way their judgment of its value to them, by what right can the newspaper itself claim to be treated as a social service and subsidised at the expense of its more successful competitors?
The Guardian recently underlined the contrast between freedom and feather bedding—though it probably did so unintentionally—when it declared:Market economics, if allowed to operate as at present, will eventually deprive more readers of the papers of their choice.…Even when more than a million readers vote with their pennies, as was the case with the News Chronicle and is now the case with the Sun the market decrees them wrong.579 My Lords, this is nonsense. How positively can a paper be a paper of their choice if an increase of ld., 2d. or even 3d. can lead them to abandon it and read another one? Is this the extent of their loyalty, or their appreciation of the way in which it is filling their needs? Can these sums of money be so significant, in a country where the average family income is over £25 a week that the middle classes who read the Guardian and the affluent upper working class whom the Sun claims as its readers, would switch to a newspaper they did not really want in order to save a few coppers a week? And if this is so, how seriously can they be said to want the first one?
Various suggestions have been put forward for penalising successful newspapers in order to feather-bed the unsuccessful. It seems a little ironic that, at a time when the printing unions are being sharply criticised for their restrictive practices and for attempting to preserve outmoded patterns of newspapers production, changes in the pattern of the public's newspaper needs, arising inevitably as a result of modern changes in technology and social organisation, should be regarded as tragedies to be averted at all cost. If the readers of an uneconomic newspaper are not prepared to vote an extra penny or two to keep it in existence, who shall decree that more successful newspapers should be penalised and thus forced to give a worsened service to their own readers? Would not this be an intolerable example of job-protecting restrictive practice of the sort which is so much deplored?
It has been stated that newspapers have to go out of existence even when they have circulations of 1 million or 2 million, and there have been many similar observations. This is utter nonsense. I have just come from a lunch celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Scotsman (that is why I was a little delayed), a newspaper with a circulation of only 75,000, which none the less enjoys a world-wide reputation on a strong and stable commercial base. It was not in this position when I took it over, but that is the difference between good and bad management. Other regional morning newspapers, such as my own Newcastle Journal, or the Yorkshire Post, 580 the Birmingham Post, the Liverpool Post or Northern Echo, manage well on circulations of between 75,000 and 120,000, while the troubles in the London evening paper field should not blind us to the fact that the vast majority of the more than sixty provincial evening papers, some of whose circulations are as low as 30,000 or 40,000 while others reach ten times those figures, are in a strong and healthy position.
Part at least of the troubles of the Guardian are probably of its own making. The Manchester Guardian was an important provincial newspaper, with a great national, and even international, reputation, despite the fact that the majority of its circulation was confined to Lancashire and Cheshire. If it had been content to stay in its own league, its future could have been assured for all the foreseeable future. As it was, it took a management decision to enter another and bigger league, that of national newspapers, for which it had neither the resources nor the managerial skills, with the result that it is now appealing for help and putting forward, under the signature of its industrial correspondent, complicated schemes whereby successful newspapers would be penalised in order to support unsuccessful ones, and the public's right to determine which newspapers it wants to continue in existence, and which it does not, would be overridden.
I may say that, in my judgment, if the Manchester Guardian was printed only in Manchester, where it would be perfectly viable for all time to come, its loss of circulation might be 60,000or 65,000 copies only. It cannot possibly, in my opinion, justify printing in two centres to get an extra circulation of 60,000 or 65,000 copies. Everyone in the South could still get the Manchester Guardian. It is true that they would have to close their editorial deadlines a little ahead of the time that they are able to do now, printing in London. But that could be done, and the papers could be sent down here and distributed to everyone who really wants to buy the Manchester Guardian. Why do not they do that?
§ THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment. He asked the question: Why do they not do it? I should have 581 thought that he could discuss this quite intimately with the Guardian, as he is their printer at the present time.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
I propose to do so; and I might say that I have given them the right to cancel the printing contract with me. I have a long-term printing contract, to which I could hold them. I have given them the right to cancel that contract at any time, without any penalty at all; and if they want to take advantage of it they are quite welcome to do so. I cannot do any more.
In the preface to the E.I.U. Survey—and I wish noble Lords would pay real attention to this; this has a personal note—Lord Devlin says:If present trend continues the forecast is that before this decade ends three more national dailies and one more national Sunday will have gone. They will not be swallowed up by tycoons anxious to foist their own brands of politics on increasing masses. There are no such people. The Report destroys utterly the idea that newspapers can be kept alive by anti-monopoly legislation.That is very significant. That is the conclusion that was reached after careful investigation. I suggest that your Lordships should think about it. This is so true. The amalgamations, the consolidations and take-overs are all a rationalising process to make the newspaper business more efficient and to ensure their viability against other advertising media like television and magazines.
Many suggestions have been made respecting Government help or interference. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, for mentioning some of the things, because these were all brought up before him, and they have been hashed and re-hashed. I am opposed to anything of this kind. I am sure that if the Government did extend assistance to newspapers they would do it in such a way that there would be no pressure on the newspapers to favour them. I would concede that. However, no company or industry can accept help without placing itself under an obligation. I am sure this would be viewed in foreign countries as an abridgement on the freedom of the Press in Britain. We just cannot afford to have this happen. If such help or assistance should come about, I assume that everyone in the business would be treated the 582 same. I hope it does not come about, but if it did I hope it would not just be a case of bonusing the inefficient and penalising the efficient. If this should happen it would presage the beginning of the end of the complete freedom of newspapers as it now exists.
The suggestion has been made that the Government should set up a printing plant where new newspapers can be printed without the huge capital investment that is usually required. There is no need for this. I have a plant with large capacity, and I make this offer. I will print any new paper without any profit, at cost only. That is a standing offer. I would expect that anyone who wants to take advantage of this offer should be adequately financed to ensure that they could carry on for at least a reasonable time, because you get some crackpot schemes coming up. I know they could not carry on for a month with the money they have. They would have to have enough money to ensure that they are going to be in business for at least a few months.
Then again, it is suggested that through control of advertising less should go to the successful papers and more be forced towards the inefficient and unsuccessful. This just would not work. Advertisers do not have to place their advertising in newspapers. There are other alternative media and, rather than patronise newspapers which they consider would not give them value for their money, they would divert the money in other ways—television; magazines; perhaps into premiums, because that is a possibility; fancy packaging; posters; window-displays, and the multitude of other methods which may be used to assist in the selling of goods.
It is my opinion that any interference with the free flow of advertising and the ability of advertisers to use the newspaper of their choice would simply reduce the volume in the successful papers and in many cases make them in turn unsuccessful, and would not really benefit the weak papers at all. The Sunday Times relies on advertising for about 75 per cent. of its income. If we produced the Sunday Times without advertising we should have to sell the paper at over 2s. a copy. I have not worked it out, but I should think that it would be considerably over that figure. 583 Other newspapers would more than double in price. If prices were raised to that extent, or even any figure approaching it, circulations would plummet and the British public would have very much less access to news and opinions than is now the case.
There has been much talk of what is called the undue dependence of newspapers on advertising revenue. While it is true that this causes a somewhat greater degree of fluctuation than is really comfortable, not only do I believe that newspapers in this country are underpriced but I have always tried to do something about it by, generally speaking, taking the lead by raising the prices of my papers. It would be catastrophic if your Lordships were to overlook the basic role which advertising plays in a free economy dedicated to the concept of consumer choice, in permitting the manufacturer and the retailer to inform the public about the goods they have for sale and even to try to persuade them of the virtues of these goods. Advertising, as we know it to-day, is an essential component of an efficient distribution system. And it is no coincidence that it is most heavily developed in those countries with the highest standard of living. Modern techniques of management and research have increased its precision enormously during the past few decades, and the suggestion that the advertiser should be prevented from using it in the most efficient way by complicated regulations devised to subsidise newspapers which are no longer viable in their own right, either because they have outlived their function or because they are being badly managed, is most inappropriate to the age of technology.
In some quarters the view seems to be taken that while advertising is a necessary evil it is still an evil, and that newspapers would be better newspapers if they could manage without it. This is arrant nonsense. The highly sophisticated scientific research continuously carried out by my organisation—and by other publishing houses—into the reading habits of the public and of the needs which newspapers fill, shows very clearly that from the reader's point of view the advertising is an integral part of the paper, highly valued in its own right and, in many instances, of greater interest to the reader of the paper than parts of the editorial content itself.
584 The function of the newspaper as a market place for goods and services is just as important a contribution to modern social and economic organisation as the reporting of Parliamentary debates or speculation about the matrimonial and extra-marital affairs of "pop" idols; and to suggest that freedom in one function should be curtailed in order to promote greater diversity in the other implies a very odd set of values. Newspapers create their own personalities and find their own individual levels and characteristics of audiences, which in turn determine the volume and nature of the advertising which finds its way to them. In this way, the common will of the community, acting through a mechanism which allows the various interests concerned to judge what positive contribution they wish to make, can decide which newspapers it wants to continue and which it does not, and what particular role it wants each of them to fill. I do not see that any case can be made out for riding roughshod over the common will by penalising the successful newspaper in the interests of the unsuccessful—that is to say, by imposing upon the population a newspaper structure different from that which they would choose for themselves.
Public discussion of the Press seems to arouse a level of emotion amounting at times almost to hysteria, and is regarded as a battleground into which anybody may leap, whatever his ignorance of the subject. The Shawcross Commission of 1962 considered a number of suggestions put to it for frustrating the needs of the newspaper reader and the national economy by arbitrary manipulation of advertising revenues or printing arrangements. They rejected all of them as undesirable or unworkable, or both. Yet they have all been brought forward once again, together with other variants on the same principles. I have already referred to a number of them.
Whether you regard the newspaper industry as simply a business like any other, or whether you feel there is something special about it, it is an inescapable fact that the operation of a modern newspaper is a complex matter involving the most highly specialised management, technical and commercial considerations not comprehended by the general public or, for that matter, by many newspaper 585 workers themselves, and, I am afraid, by not all newspaper owners. A man may be a good dramatic critic or cookery expert, or even a gossip columnist, without understanding the working of the industry. But this does not stop people regarding themselves as experts on the subject or advancing their views, irrespective of the complexities of the situation.
Now let me refer briefly to The Times/Sunday Times merger. In accordance with the Act this was referred to the Monopolies Commission, which spent three months investigating the position, with a thoroughness which I and my colleagues found more than a little wearisome, and in the end gave its approval. It was certainly thoroughly investigated and every possible alternative was taken into consideration. The machinery set up to safeguard the public interest went into action as it was intended to do, and after exhaustive examination endorsed the proposal. I may add that the long delay of three months which this involved proved extremely damaging to the commercial position of The Times and to the morale of its staff. And though I am sure the Commission did their best within their own powers, I should hope that in future some arrangement may be made whereby this damaging period of suspense may be shortened. With any other industry the Commission's Report would have been the end of the matter, and nobody would have been so arrogant as to declare, "I don't care what view is taken by the body of experts specifically set up to examine this matter, or that after due process of law an official ruling has been given; I feel very emotional on the subject, and propose to go on about it." Yet this, as your Lordships know, can all too easily happen when a newspaper is the subject at issue.
A great deal has already been said about The Times and I do not wish to weary your Lordships with anything further. I would only say that it is my intention to put behind this great newspaper all the resources and skills which I have at my disposal, and to underwrite it, if necessary, to the full extent of my personal fortune. Frankly, in this case I do not think this will be necessary—and I am going to make darn sure it is not! The editorial and managerial resources which are now being put into it, and the innate strength of the news- 586 paper itself, will, in my view, enable it to weather the storm through which it has been passing. But it is not going to be easy. I am proud of the opportunity which has been given me in this respect, and I know that when the Monopolies Commission endorsed the merger as being in the public interest their judgment was wholly sound.
The worthwhile newspapers will continue and some of them will prosper. By and large, I think that those newspapers will survive which best serve their communities and whose businesses are well conducted. Those factors inevitably go together.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, in the foreword of the Survey of the Economist Intelligence Unit, said:This report destroys utterly the idea that newspapers can be kept forcibly alive by antimonopoly legislation".As one of the three members who was invited to join the Monopolies Commission to consider the merger of The Times with the Thomson organisation, I should like to say that I heartily agree with those words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin. I do not for one moment dissent from the Report of the Monopolies Commission which I signed. On the contrary, I consider that we came to the right decision. It was a decision, moreover, which was directly in line with the criteria laid down of what is public interest, which was set out in paragraph 348 of the 1962 Report of the Royal Commission on the Press.
Here I should like to say, however, that while I do not have to declare an interest, I have to agree with very much less justice than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, who said that he was not an expert in this matter, that I am very much less of an expert than him. I can assure your Lordships that when I was sitting on the Monopolies Commission, and my virgin imagination had to withstand the impact of seeing the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, and other distinguished people from the Press, appearing before us, as it were, in the raw, it had a very considerable impact upon me indeed.
But perhaps it is worth remembering that the only thing that the Monopolies 587 Commission had to judge was whether the merger was or was not against the public interest; or, if it was against the public interest, whether any safeguards could be provided to ensure that it did not work against the public interest. My colleague, Mr. Brian Davidson, dissented, because he believed that legal sanctions instead of public assurances on certain matters should have been obtained. But the whole of the Commission were unanimous in believing that it was better for a great newspaper to continue to exist, and to be run by those who were confident that they could improve its quality as well as its circulation, rather than that it should expire, or be run by those who lacked the confidence any longer in their ability to do so.
The Monopolies Commission—and here, perhaps, I may respectfully contradict what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, said—were expressly excluded by their terms of reference from considering all kinds of alternatives. We did, of course, consider various possibilities which came before us, but it was not our job to consider alternatives. We could, I think, allude to alternatives, as we did in paragraph 167 of the Report, and mention the various ways in which newspapers who were facing extinction might get aid. I am therefore in no way criticising my colleagues when I say that I think this machinery of examination by the Monopolies Commission, which was instituted after the Royal Commission reported, is too blunt an instrument to cope with the problems of the Press.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, is very right when he says that there is no gang of ruthless tycoons—and, of course, he added a clause after that—waiting to swallow up newspapers in order to foist their own brands of politics upon the country. The problems of the Press are very much more complex than that. They are so serious that we ought to note what I regard as the failure of the Royal Commission on the Press to deal with them only a short time ago, and to ask ourselves again whether we are going to fail to tackle this problem.
The Royal Commission analysed the difficulties which the Press faces most fairly. It did not, of course, go into the detail of the recent Survey, but the 588 analysis was most thorough. But having set out those difficulties, they concluded that there was really nothing to be done about them.
Legislation"—said the Report—cannot produce the qualities of management and editorial direction.I imagine we should all agree with that. But the Royal Commission then went on to conclude that there was no acceptable legislative or fiscal way of regulating competitive and economic forces so as to ensure a sufficient diversity of newspapers.
Surely the time has come for us to disagree. We all know that the finances of newspapers are distorted by advertising. The Royal Commission examined a scheme for restricting advertising. They turned it down. They examined the scheme by Mr. Kaldor and Mr. Neild for improving the competitive position of smaller circulation newspapers by imposing a levy on advertising revenue at a percentage rate of the newspaper circulation. They turned that down. They turned down a third proposal to levy an excise duty on advertising. They were against any special concessions to the newspaper industry, such as that industry enjoys in France. They were against a direct Government subsidy to the Press. So in fact the Royal Commission, though weeping loudly, like the Walrus and the Carpenter, soon dried their eyes and declared that, however lamentable the closure of newspapers might be, there was really nothing that could be done about it.
The reason they came to this conclusion was, I think, because they argued from false economic premises. They followed the old orthodox economists in believing in a world of perfect competition. Yet over a quarter of a century ago that eminent disciple of Lord Keynes, Professor John Robinson, showed conclusively that such a world of perfect competition does not exist. The only perfect competition that exists in the newspaper world is perfect competition for advertisers. In fact, competition in all spheres of our economic life is imperfect and there is no reason, just as in other spheres of the economy, why Government action should not be taken if necessary to redress the balance. For, if this is not done, as the Survey of the Economist Intelligence Unit shows, then on present trends, as has been mentioned 589 already, three more nationals and at least one Sunday newspaper will have gone by the end of 1970.
There is a temptation—and it is a very strong one—to say, as indeed the Royal Commission did, that it is for the industry to put its house in order, and that that is all that really can be done. No doubt it should, and no doubt efforts will now be made, as they were when the Royal Commission produced its Report. But do we really believe that the industry can put its house in order by 1970? Do we believe that by that time management will be reorganised, the unions will have given up "feather-bedding" and restrictive practices, and the great newspaper proprietors will be cooing together like doves? Is it not more likely that the circulation war will continue? This is a war in which every newspaper proprietor believes that it is in his interest to ruin his competitors. Though the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, gave some magnanimous assurances of his generosity, when it actually came to the price of newspapers it was perfectly clear that he felt that any intervention on the question of prices would be disastrous. In his own words, a newspaper had only to increase its prices, and if it could not then compete with newspapers which cost less it must go to the wall. But in so doing—
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but would he not admit that the I.P.C. have kept the Sun newspaper going at tremendous losses for many years?
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has raised that point, because I am hoping to come to the Sun newspaper in a moment. But the trouble is that when newspaper proprietors act in this way, which they are bound to do, they not only ruin the men who work in the industry, but they act against the public interest; not deliberately, of course, but by the unconscious mechanism of the market. They act against the public interest in reducing the variety of opinion, which I think many believe is essential if the free Press in this country is to continue, and I am afraid that the proprietors are very often dogmatically hostile to intervention.
We have heard speeches this afternoon which suggest that any kind of inter- 590 vention would be a disaster. Therefore, I feel that some of the proprietors resemble that fearsome animal in primeval times, tricerotops, which bared its teeth to rend its victims limb from limb; while other newspaper proprietors resemble that other primeval animal, brontosaurus, browsing on verbiage and waiting for extinction. What is more important is that we should consider this afternoon the public interest, and not be content with worrying too much about the interests or the family concerns of the proprietors of the Press themselves.
I cordially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, that there is no magical number of newspapers which can be said adequately to represent public opinion. When I was talking on one occasion to my noble friend Lord Goodman, he said to me that perhaps 100 newspapers or so might adequately represent public opinion, but that he did not know that the number might not be 200. Nevertheless, is there not something prima facie ridiculous in a situation where a paper with a circulation of that of the Sun, of 1,200,000, can be running at such a loss that, as we have just been reminded, it is really the generosity of the company which is keeping that particular newspaper going? Is there not something dangerous in a situation where there might be no quality, or no near-quality, left-of-centre daily, so that if these papers closed down a million and a half readers would be disenfranchised?
It can be argued, of course, that this is an age when newspapers are in decline; that television or the weeklies have taken their place. I have even heard it said that all we get in newspapers is the lucubrations of opinionated journalists who represent only themselves. Alternatively, one sometimes hears it argued that newspapers "slant" the news, whereas television and radio present straight news and then, in other programmes, present clashes of opinion. Here, I am very old-fashioned. I do not believe that the short television programme can compare, in stimulating thought on public issues, with the reasoned articles which appear in quality newspapers, or even with the hard-hitting features in tabloids. Both have their function in society. We have not yet reached the time when the spoken word has ousted the written word as a way of convincing people. Whatever its 591 faults—and no doubt the Press has faults: most industries or concerns, even the one to which I belong, have their faults—the Press is still the best medium for bringing public issues to the fore, and more especially for criticising the conduct of public affairs. In this, television cannot compare with it, partly because of the Governmental restraints which are imposed on broadcasting. I think that must be admitted at once.
But those who say that the condition of the Press is not a matter of urgency, or that, if it is a matter of urgency, there is nothing to be done about it, are, I think, really challenging the utility of the Press as a whole. That is why I so greatly welcome the Prime Minister's statement on January 3. He offered to help the Press if it wanted help, though he did not at that moment make any specific proposal for intervention. I very much hope that he and the Government will not wait too long, but will begin actively to consider this problem. Of course, it is true, as the Prime Minister said, that there are appalling risks in intervening on behalf of a small number of large newspapers, whatever the safeguards. But let us begin to study how we might be able to overcome those risks, or whether those risks are really impossible to overcome.
As a nation we have been exceedingly fertile in inventing ways of giving Government aid to good and necessary things without imposing direct Government control. The B.B.C., the I.T.A., the Arts Council, the University Grants Committee, the National Film Corporation—these are all examples of organisations which act as a buffer between the Government and their beneficiaries. Nor do I believe that a lingering suspicion of obligation, as the Prime Minister put it, might soften criticism of Government by a newspaper which was so aided. Have public funds really stilled the voice of the satirists of Governments or of politicians when speaking from the stage, in the cinema, on television or on the radio?
My Lords, all sorts of difficulties and doubts will be raised against setting up any agency of this kind, or, alternatively (though I would guess this would be less easy to do), against rationalising advertising revenue. Of course there are difficulties. It would be disastrous to bolster up 592 inefficient management, and—let us be perfectly frank—the price of help might well be the reorganisation of the management of some newspapers which are less efficient than others. It might well be that an agency set up by Government would have to consider the artificially low prices charged for newspapers, or whether there is an inescapable law that only papers with a circulation of over three and a half million should be able to survive without any kind of aid. But if such an agency, with power to recommend legislation or administrative action, if necessary, is not set up, then we shall again see newspapers going to the wall even though they have a million or more readers.
There will be no lack of people to point out the difficulties in such a course of action, but, as Cardinal Newman said over a century ago:Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.My Lords, I do not doubt that the time has come when the newspaper industry needs the help of Government, and quickly, to solve some of its problems. It needs help because, without it, the public interest (of which we have not heard very much this afternoon), free discussion and the expression of a diversity of opinions will suffer; and suffer badly.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ LORD BUCKTON
My Lords, on rising to address your Lordships for the first time, I feel in a topsy-turvy world, for in another place, as Chairman of Ways and Means, it was my duty to call the House to order if it strayed; but in your Lordships' House, I understand, it is the House itself which will call me to order if I should stray. I hope I shall not stray, but the subject of the debate is controversial and is one in which I have a considerable personal interest. I therefore ask your Lordships' indulgence if I do stray.
I must begin by declaring my interest, for I have for over 48 years been actively engaged in the newspaper industry, and it is 42 years to-day exactly since I took control of a group of provincial evening and weekly newspapers, some of which were part of the first newspaper chain—that formed by Andrew Carnegie and my grandfather. They stated in their memorandum of association that they existed to 593 promote radical doctrines, peace, retrenchment: and reform. Things have changed since then; but while now, in their editorial columns, they support sound Tory principles, they still, in their news columns, endeavour to cover world news and local news without bias, and have preserved their independence in spite of the blandishments of several of your Lordships and your Lordships' predecessors.
With such a background I could not fail to be interested in the Report of the Economist Intelligence Unit on the national newspaper industry and in the Cameron Report on the introduction of new techniques in the printing industry. These Reports contain weighty criticisms which must receive full consideration by those to whom they apply. They will also be studied with interest by the provincial Press, which may well learn much from the E.I.U. study and which, although the Cameron Report deals mainly with the general printing industry, is directly concerned in many of the matters covered and in most of the recommendations which it makes.
What I cannot understand, however, is the sweeping criticism the Reports have aroused and the near-panic they have created in many, from the Prime Minister downwards, as to the viability of certain national newspapers. Newspapers always have to bear a great amount of uninformed criticism, but what they have suffered from recently is beyond reason. Are we really to assume that national newspapers and unions which had the intelligence to set up, at enormous cost, a fact-finding inquiry into their failings have not the intelligence to act upon the findings and make their undertakings viable? And if they fail to do so, is there any reason why they should not be allowed to suffer the usual fate of those who are unable to manage their own affairs? It would be regrettable if any did fail; but far better that they should fail than that any attempt be made to bolster them up by some of the methods which have been suggested this afternoon and which would be completely incompatible with a free Press.
The Prime Minister rightly said that in a free country we need a free Press representing every point of view, however poisonous, and that if this is to be achieved it needs something like the 594 present number of papers, national and local. I am glad that the Prime Minister said "national and local", for it emphasises the point that I want to make: that while, as I have already said, it would be regrettable if some of the national newspapers did fail, it would not be the tragedy that some seem to fear.
The national newspapers are only part of our system for the dissemination of news and the creation of opinion. Sound broadcasting and television, too, play an important part—but so also do the provincial morning and evening papers, not to mention the multitude of weekly papers. Most people, I think, realise the scope of sound broadcasting and television in the dissemination of news and the creation of opinion, but few appreciate the big part played collectively by the provincial morning and evening papers and, particularly, by the evenings. There are 64 provincial evening papers published in the United Kingdom. Together they have a sale of over 6⅝ million copies a day. There is little duplication in that sale, as there is in the over-15 million sale of the national papers; and, moreover, all readership surveys show the high quality of that sale, the high coverage it gives in each paper's area and the influence it has through being read by the family in the home. Furthermore, the standard of their contents and of the production is at least as high as that of the popular national papers. And, what is more, they are more viable.
Like other advertising media, provincial newspapers have suffered recently from the credit squeeze and from Government intervention in advertising policy, but, from the best information I can gather, not to the same extent as the national newspapers. Moreover, what setback there has been is from what, for most provincial papers, was the best time they have ever enjoyed. With a provincial Press as healthy as ours, we have much less to fear if, unhappily, one or more national newspapers fall by the way.
I turn now to the Cameron Report which, though mainly directed to the general printer and the printers of periodicals, contains much of concern to newspapers. In the Report there are many helpful proposals, but I fear that some 595 of the recommendations savour more of the ideal than the practical. For instance, I see little likelihood of anything coming out of the recommendation that there should be one organisation to represent the national newspapers, the general printers and the provincial newspapers. At one time the Newspaper Society represented all newspapers, but in 1906 the national papers broke away, to escape involvement in a general printers' strike; while in 1959 I do not think the provincial newspapers would have experienced a six-weeks' stoppage if they had not been bound to support the general printers. Indeed, the interests of the national papers and general printers and the local papers are so diverse that I cannot see how one organisation could represent them all.
Far more hopeful is the alternative recommendation that the employers' association should establish formal and permanent machinery for maintaining continuous contact on matters of common interest—although it is only fair to add that, so far as the Newspaper Society is concerned, it has always endeavoured to maintain such contact on the officials' level. I welcome, too, the recommendation that steps should be taken to establish joint machinery for consultation and negotiation to replace the defunct Joint Industrial Council. But we must recognise that some things which happened in the J.I.C. led to a complete breakdown of confidence between the employers and the unions, and that confidence will have to be rebuilt before joint machinery will work. There is a dire need for a complete change of outlook. Employers and unions must take a fresh look at the position into which they have got themselves. They must realise that they are partners in a common undertaking and learn to give as well as to take. Here, too, I think the provincial Press has a part to play. For, on the whole, relations between management and worker are good and few difficulties are experienced in solving problems which arise.
In my own business, for over forty years I have sought to foster such good relations, to make the workers feel that they are partners in our enterprise. We were among the pioneers of group insurance to provide for old age; we have always taken care of those who were 596 sick, and for many years we have shared our profits with our workers so that they are real partners in our undertaking. It is due to the good relations which exist that, apart from the General Strike and the strike in 1959 to which I have already referred, we have never lost a day's work through an industrial dispute. It is due to the same reason that when, a few years ago, we introduced an incentive scheme which involved considerable redeployment of labour, we had the cooperation of the workers. It is also for that same reason that I hope when we change from letterpress to web-offset printing, as we are about to do at Portsmouth, we shall be able to do so with satisfaction both to management and men.
The men have been kept informed about our plans; they know that provision for retraining for deployment is in hand, and I am confident that they will co-operate in making the change smoothly. If they do not, I shall feel that a lifetime of effort to foster good labour relations has been wasted and that the time has come for me to hand over control to someone else. Here I may say, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, that if the time comes when I feel that I should give up control he will not then be able to add to his "stable".
My Lords, I have troubled you with these personal examples, for I am sure that our problems must be solved on the workshop floor and that no amount of overall organisations or independent chairmen will be of use unless management and men come to terms of good relations and a common aim to increase the productivity and the profitability of their common enterprise. My Lords, when I occupied the Chair in another place, charged with the task of calling as many speakers as possible, I always said that anybody should be able to say anything worth saying in ten minutes. I am afraid that I have broken that rule to-day, but I thank your Lordships for your indulgence.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Buckton, on his maiden speech? It would be presumptuous on my part to make reference to his Parliamentary career, but, as he himself indicated, he has in the past had the privilege 597 of calling a House to order. I sincerely hope that he will never exercise that privilege in this place, but so far as his voice and opinions are concerned, I sincerely hope that this House will have the pleasure of hearing him on many future occasions. A debt is due to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for introducing this debate. It is not often that I am "on the same wavelength" as the noble Earl, but once or twice during his remarks I found that I was so; though I certainly have no desire to enter the arena and join in his private fight with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet.
My Lords, I think that the discussion so far has given ample indication of the problems which beset the industry, and one comes to the conclusion—I think it is the right one—that the prospect is bleak. There has been general agreement that it is desirable, and indeed vital, in the interests of democracy and free discussion that there should be an independent Press; and I underline "independent", because, with the complexities of modern life we do need a well-informed democracy. In spite of the charm which exuded from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, I still believe that there is considerable concern—I certainly feel it—over the danger that surviving papers may become the property of two or three large combines. I wish to concern myself with the problem of how far, and in what way, action, even including public action, can be taken to help the surviving newspapers. But I believe that before such action is considered, it is necessary for newspapers to gear themselves to the tempo and the needs of the times.
To-day newspapers operate and compete in a wide and expanding complex of public communications. To-day, when radio and television transmit news almost as fast as it happens, newspapers cannot exist by giving the bare news after the radio has given the facts. I believe that the gulf between newspaper treatment to-day and pre-television days is almost as wide as between the pigeon post and the telegraph. There never was a time when there was a greater need for interpretation of the news, and if one accepts that need one must condemn the suggestion that we can do with one local newspaper in a particular area or fewer national newspapers. I believe that the 598 newspaper can do the job of interpreting news far better than television or radio. But if that interpretation is the main ingredient of public information, there is an even greater danger if the range of papers is restricted. I intend to deal with how surviving newspapers can be helped by public and private action and with the merits and disabilities that flow, or could flow, from such action.
There is no doubt that the overall circulation of newspapers is declining, and that the overall profitability is lower than at any time, although some are doing well. The suggestion has been made that the only way the industry can obtain more revenue is by putting up prices. That has already been done on more than one occasion, and the circulation revenue of £44 million in 1957 became £78 million in 1966; but it is competitive fears that slow down any suggestion of a price rise, simply because the prosperous can afford not to take the initiative and the poorer ones would not gain much—indeed, would probably lose—if the prices went up. Therefore action of that kind benefits the mass circulation, prosperous newspaper and brings no benefit to the less profitable. I do not completely identify the idea of being less prosperous with being less efficient. I must indicate my own relationship (not a financial relationship) with a newspaper that has served the community for more than a hundred years. It, too, is suffering serious difficulties, and probably during my remarks I shall be able to give some reason why. There is no doubt that that newspaper has served the country and the people well over those years. I have suggested that the price may go up, but what is this debate about? Basically, it is about the circulations of newspapers, the number of newspapers that are read; and none would argue against the fact that if we increase the price of newspapers, the circulation and the number of readers of newspapers will go down.
My friends in the advertising industry recently published a document expressing their point of view. They suggest that if the price of newspapers was a little higher, and there was more revenue, there would be more competitive advertisements and an ability on the part of advertisers to spend more on advertisements. To some extent that statement is fallacious. 599 They go on to state that the only main guiding principle for the majority of advertisers upon which decisions are made is the basis of cost per inch per thousand. But if one had to examine the cost per inch per thousand one would see that the facts of the situation do not bear out the argument advanced. The cost per inch per thousand of the Financial Times is 4.4d.; for The Times it is 3.1d.; for the Guardian 1.95d.—this is per thousand, all on the same basis—the Observer 1.95d.; the Sunday Citizen 1.8d.; the Sunday Times 1.75d. and the Sunday Telegraph 1.7d. Therefore those figures do not appear to substantiate the arguments advanced by the advertising industry.
I would agree—and other speakers have referred to it—that one could not take any action to attempt to control the placing and direction of advertisements according to the needs of the newspaper. That would be unworkable. Advertising is, in my opinion, an integral part of marketing, and if that view is accepted, the placing of advertisements must be determined by considerations that maximise the benefit from such expenditure. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of lazy placing of advertisements, using mass circulations as the sole factor. That, in my opinion, can damage the long-term interests of advertisers because in the long run advertisers are not helped by the increasing concentration of newspapers.
There are two sides to this problem, my Lords: those of costs and revenue. Revenue is bound up with the price of newspapers, advertising, circulation, the effect of commercial television, and the tendency on the part of advertisers to concentrate on giant circulations when placing advertisements. All those are complex factors. Regarding costs, the biggest single item for most newspapers is the cost of newsprint. The report of the Intelligence Unit shows the cost of newsprint as representing about 31 per cent. of newspaper costs in 1965; and presumably the cost is still going up.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and other speakers, completely condemned any suggestion of subsidy by the Government. and I must confess that I do not willingly accept the idea of a direct subsidy to newspapers. But I would not 600 lightly discard suggestions which could make for collective or co-operative aid under the guidance of the State. One of the quickest and most flexible methods would be some form of levy and rebate on the cost of newsprint. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, made the statement in quite positive terms that, as an individual owner of newspapers, he did not seek the elimination of other newspapers, and that his organisation found benefit in continuing the lives of existing newspapers. There is truth in that statement. Even a successful newspaper can benefit from the less successful. The greater the number of newspapers, both national and provincial, the greater is the area open for the training of journalists. The Thomson Organisation and other successful organisations are drawing journalists and other skilled men and women from newspapers which may at this time be considered to be experiencing serious difficulties.
We should consider whether or not there is justice in the State giving encouragement by some form of collective aid. One suggestion is that such a rebate should be confined to newspapers which are independent and which must survive on their own finances as newspapers, and not as part of an organisation making large profits. A rebate operating on that basis at present would help the Guardian, the Morning Star, the Sunday Citizen, Tribune and some of the provincial papers. And had such a subsidy been in operation before, the News Chronicle and the London Star would probably have still been in existence, and The Times would probably have been able to continue as an independent newspaper. But such a method as I have outlined would not help the Sun, the Daily Sketch or the Sunday Times, which are generally accepted as being the other newspapers most acutely in difficulties, but which are all owned by combines or groups making profits on their overall group operations.
A strong argument has been advanced that there should be no help unless the collective resources of the organisation have been expended. There has been the equally strong argument that it is in the public interest to prevent further reduction in the number of newspapers. I reject completely the idea that we should suffer 601 no ill if the number of national newspapers was reduced to two or three, and to one in the provincial areas. I have lived in a provincial area which was a distance of some 30 to 40 miles from the nearest large town, and which had one newspaper. Although, by and large, that paper did a good job, there was always the danger of criticism that the paper could not reflect all true and just opinion. There is always danger where the volume of the Press is reduced. The more newspapers there are, the greater the opportunity for the free expression of opinion. There is a strong argument for preventing further reduction in the number of papers in the public interest.
It is true that it would be inequitable to help some newspapers and let others die through the accident of proprietorship. Therefore, aid at a reduced rate could be extended to cover such newspapers. But proprietors would have to make some sacrifice from overall profits. Although it may be argued that it would be a good thing to maintain as many newspapers as possible in the public interest, proprietors could not be expected to bear the entire loss on newspapers in financial difficulties. But any assistance given need not necessarily be a charge on the taxpayer. There is no reason at all why they should not be financed by a levy entirely within the newspaper industry.
Several methods have been advanced. The Sunday Citizen put one forward to the Commission in 1961, and Mr. Peter Jenkins explained one in the Guardian on January 5. Newspapers would pay levy on every ton of newsprint consumed and then be entitled to rebate per square inch of editorial space. If a newspaper carried a large proportion of editorial, the rebate would cancel out the levy and give a subsidy. But if it contained a high proportion of advertising, the editorial rebate would be low and would go to pay the levy which would be received by "high editorial "papers. The scheme put forward by the Sunday Citizen was that of a levy on all imported and home manufactured newsprint. I need not quote the figures, but your Lordships will realise that the purchase of newsprint amounts to a considerable sum of money, and no doubt the industry could develop a method of setting up a fund which could be used equitably and without any exploiting of such a fund.
602 It may be asked whether the proposals that I have been making with regard to aid would mean Government control over the policy of papers that would receive the benefit. I do not think that such a risk exists, but if it did, it should be balanced against the other risk, that unless something is done quickly more newspapers will die and the contribution that the Press can make to democratic life will be more restricted. In speaking of Government influence, let me remind your Lordships that if the remaining independents die, and the surviving local and national newspapers are concentrated into, say, two super-combines, Government influence would be far easier than if we had a freer Press. I am suggesting that the wider the range of papers, from the Morning Star to whatever paper may be in mind, the better it is in the long run.
There are precedents to prove that Government help does not necessarily mean Government control. To a degree the Press already receive Government help through the subsidised Commonwealth Press rate for cables, but it is not suggested that cables are being censored. There are other instances of industries receiving subsidies for operations which could not be carried out on a strictly commercial basis. There is no attempt at Government interference with the Arts, for example, because of the State subsidies which the Arts receive.
I am not suggesting a direct subsidy, but I believe a scheme could be financed within the Press. It should be set up and operated as an independent body, appointed by the industry, the only link with the Government being that it operates under powers given to it by Parliament. I do not believe that it need represent a charge on public funds. But while there is a strong case for Government action to maintain the variety of the Press, I believe that the newspapers can do a great deal more to help themselves. I believe that, in particular, this could be done in the way of joint printing and production facilities. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has made a magnificent gesture in that regard. But I would point out that the independent national newspapers, the Guardian, Sunday Citizen, Morning Star and Financial Times, all operate their own printing plants. The Observer has no plant of its own and prints on The Times plant. 603 The Guardian plant is in Manchester, as we have heard, and its southern circulation prints on Lord Thomson of Fleet's plant.
Let us assume that the Financial Times is doing well and is not troubled with the problems of other independent newspapers. But the Guardian, Morning Star and Sunday Citizen are all facing financial problems; and even the Observer hinted recently that they are not immune to the cold winds that are blowing. The logical position is that all or some of these newspapers should get together and seek to achieve long-term production economies by producing on common plant whenever possible. I think this is particularly advantageous where a daily newspaper and a Sunday newspaper can be linked for production purposes.
Before coming to the end of my comments, I feel that I ought to make reference to the point that has been made with regard to print trade unions and restrictive practices. In another capacity I have had an opportunity of studying some of the restrictive practices that are operating in the print industry, and they are deserving of universal condemnation. There is no doubt that restrictive practices, overmanning and inter-union disputes, are far too common in the industry, and in my opinion there is no shadow of doubt that there is a desperate need for a measure of amalgamation among various unions operating in the industry. I believe that there is a recognition that these problems must be tackled. The fact that the industry commissioned the Economist Intelligence Report indicates that both sides recognise that problems exist, and are prepared to get to grips with them.
I believe it is essential to recognise that if all the anomalies in labour practices were eliminated, the problem would not be solved. The result, unfortunately, if you could do it with the wave of a wand, would immediately be that papers already profitable would become more prosperous, and the saving would not solve the problem of the papers that are in difficulties. There is certainly a need, and a desperate need, for a more rational approach to the labour problems in the industry. But it is no use thinking that this one thing alone will eliminate the difficulties; and there is certainly no point in using labour employed in the 604 industry as a whipping boy. I can comment on the experience of the Sunday Citizen. A year ago they were in serious difficulties and had a crisis. I must say that the union themselves showed a willingness to make substantial concessions. In that case, there was a wide area of economies made, and at least the unions made their contribution, because they recognised the necessity for it.
My last point deals with another field of activity, where I think the Government could, and should, do something directly to help the newspapers. Government advertising is considerable. Indeed, in the past three years it has been £13,811,000, of which £6,905,000 was spent on the Press. I might say in passing that during that period the Sunday Citizen, one of the smaller papers with less than 500,000 circulation, received just under £10,000 of Government advertising. And what goes for the Sunday Citizen goes for several other newspapers in a similar class. The reason for rejecting any of the attempts to secure Government advertising was that their rates were not competitive.
I have already given a few moments ago an indication of the comparative rates within the industry. When it was pointed out that other papers have a higher or a similar equivalent rate, the ground shifted to the argument that they are the so-called "influence" papers. I can understand the commercial advertisers equating "influence" with "high income", although I do not know that my noble friends on the Front Bench would accept that equation. If my noble friends on the Front Bench do not accept it, then I think there is a justifiable reason for the Government recognising that newspapers which are smaller than the mass circulation newspapers, frequently have, as has the one I have mentioned, a readership with a high proportion of influential people in public affairs. Here is the case of a small independent newspaper, which has been part of the political life of this country for a century, being maintained at a heavy financial loss. One would have thought that the Government would desire it to continue; but they have denied this paper even a modest share of advertisements. I mention the case of this one newspaper as an example of many other newspapers of a similar type. Surely, in the advertisement field, in which nearly £7 million is spent 605 on the Press in less than a year, something could be done.
I hope that I have given an indication of some practical points that are worth consideration in this matter. I believe that we have a first-class Press in this country. It is one that is suffering severely, largely because of the need to adjust itself to an entirely new environment. I believe that the situation demands a willingness to consider fundamental remedies, no matter how unconventional they may sound.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE
My Lords, like so many other noble Lords to-day, I wish to ask your Lordships' indulgence, because I have an interest in the subject under discussion. However, I know that your Lordships encourage those who have knowledge of a subject to speak in this House—rather unlike the method of another House, where Members are not encouraged to speak about their personal affairs.
Before I come to the main subject of my speech, I should like to say that I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in censuring the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for taking over The Times. I think that Lord Thomson of Fleet had no alternative but to make a bid for The Times. Anybody else who had made a bid for The Times would have been in the same position as he was: they would have had interest in other newspapers. And unless the owner of The Times, who disposed of it, was prepared to carry out the actions that Lord Thomson of Fleet has carried out, it would not have been possible to put The Times in order.
It was quite clear to all those who live in Fleet Street that The Times was going downhill. It is not the first time that The Times has gone downhill. The first time this happened it was much more serious, and practically ended up in the bankruptcy court—this was a long time ago, when my uncle bought it. This time it had not gone downhill to anything like the same extent. It was perfectly clear that somebody who understood newspapers could save The Times, and I am quite sure your Lordships will all agree, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, that there is no doubt that he understands newspapers. I can 606 tell your Lordships another thing about Lord Thomson of Fleet. He will never take over or buy a newspaper which he is not absolutely certain he can save and make into a paying proposition. I know that because I myself tried to sell him one.
The public has become enormously interested in what goes on in Fleet Street, and there is no doubt that it was this take-over of The Times, in the first place, which caused that interest. The second event, of course, which stimulated interest was the publication of this Report; and that came at a time when the public—for the first time, in my recollection—was ready to take an interest in what was going on in Fleet Street. The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, was Chairman of the Royal Commission which produced a magnificent Report—and nobody took any notice of it. That Report said most of the same things that our Report—that is, the last Report—said. But it just was not at the right moment; and anybody who has to do with newspapers knows perfectly well that you may publish something on Monday and the public may be delighted to read it, but on Friday they do not want it. If you do not know which day the public want it, you will not sell a newspaper. Sometimes when listening to debates about newspapers I begin to think they are much easier things to run than I have ever found them to be in practice.
I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, on inaugurating the Report by the owners and the unions and also on persuading them—it took a great deal of persuading—the Joint Committee of the employers and the employed, or the owners and the trade unions, whichever form you like to take, to get together to order the Report. It was a tremendous decision to take, and would have been quite impossible a few years ago. Of course, the trade unions have been very difficult since the publication of the Report, because it was never intended, when the Report was commissioned, to publish it. It was a most unfortunate affair. It was not because we knew the Report was going to be so horrifying that we thought the public would be furious with the newspapers' state of affairs; it is simply that nobody thought they would be interested. Once it was published, however, it became one 607 of the best-selling reports there have ever been.
This matter of the overstaffing, and the difficulties we have always had with the overstaffing, goes back a very long way. I was first acquainted with it in 1926, during the General Strike. The first time I entered Fleet Street was in that year, and finding myself recruited by Mr. Winston Churchill on to the British Gazette I watched the Navy come in on to the old Argus machines there and produce the British Gazette with less than half the number we used in our own presses. These men had never worked Linotype machines in their lives before but under some loyal overseers—that is, loyal to the paper; we called them loyal; others may have called them something else—who taught them how to do it, the Linotype worked magnificently and it was immediately perfectly clear to us all that the myth of how long it took to teach a man to operate a Linotype was all nonsense.
Those things were extremely interesting, and after the end of the General Strike we had a meeting of the newspaper proprietors. I attended my first meeting of that body, and I suggested that we should go through the whole of the manning of the newspapers. I found it heavy going, and in the end I was in a minority of my own supporters; that is to say, the newspapers which were my father's newspapers and which were backing me. I could get nothing from anybody else. The then Chairman and the then Vice-Chairman would have nothing to do with it. They said that, as Mr. Baldwin had appealed for magnanimity after the General Strike, we should not in any circumstances go into the question. I pointed out that in my opinion magnanimity had nothing to do with overstaffing. I was not proposing they should get less wages; I was proposing that the staffing question should be looked into. It never was; and it has not been looked into from that time on—until now. We have lived with the problem. It was extremely difficult. But once the decision had been taken after the General Strike, there was no other occasion before the war on which it could be brought up.
After the war, of course, the times were somewhat turbulent. We were involved 608 in disputes all the time, and in the end, as your Lordships know, we ended up by getting into the newspaper strike, which lasted for 28 days. That strike was not such a terrible shock as most of the proprietors thought, because at that time they really believed that a newspaper strike might result in everybody's coming to the conclusion that newspapers were entirely unnecessary. It was discovered after 28 days that people were as keen as ever to read the newspapers; and it was also discovered that the advertiser, who, of course, had not been able to advertise his wares, came in with an enthusiasm that had never been seen before. The newspapers then published larger papers than they have ever published since; so it was a great success.
But it must be realised that one of the most difficult things in the world is to get newspapers together to stand up to the unions, because once a paper has gone—that is to say, if it is not produced—it is finished. We in Fleet Street all think that Monday's paper is the most important thing in the world to get out. Tuesday's paper is quite a different thing altogether; and Wednesday's is again another thing entirely. And so on it goes; one day passes, and another day passes, and you have lost. It is not like making boots and shoes: once made they can be stacked up. With old newspapers, it is no good stacking them up—nobody wants them. That is the feeling (it is rather a nice feeling) which you get, as everybody who has worked in a newspaper office realises. It is exactly the same to-day—the difficulty of getting the owners together to face the unions. But we think we have done it now.
We only hope that you will not use this Report, which to us is of enormous interest and great help, as a stick with which to beat the industry; because you are not helping us if you do that. That you are shocked at the situation and think it should be put right, is all right: it goes down with us and with the unions. But if you say, "You are all incompetent; the owners are incompetent; management is incompetent; everybody is incompetent," then it makes it extremely difficult. I am not in the least against the managements' being told that they are incompetent. It probably does them the world of good. I think I was the first proprietor to introduce a consultant into 609 the business. There are many stream-linings which are necessary in the modern newspaper to-day. I started off early in November on a complete reorganisation, before this Report came out, based on the feeling that things were inadequate, and also based on the fact that something had to be done, especially owing to the fact that I have a newspaper which is fighting for its life, the Daily Mail. In my opinion the Daily Mail is now going to be saved. I have many ideas for it, and many people who are advising me; and I am quite certain that if your Lordships would care to read it you would find that it is greatly improved.
The apex of this matter came, of course, when the Prime Minister made his speech ata luncheon. Your Lordships will not expect me to be greatly in favour of help by the Government. The noble Lord who has just spoken said that he wanted just as many newspapers, and he wanted them to be helped by the Government. But if you are going to have newspapers helped by the Government, you will only want one—that will be enough. They will all be exactly like each other. Why do you want eight newspapers in those circumstances? The reason for eight newspapers is that there will be variety in their contents and in their politics; that they will say something different from the others. If your line is to be ladled out by the Government, you will have exactly the same said in all the newspapers.
When I read that the Prime Minister was offering help in these centres, I could not but feel like the Trojans must have felt when they looked over the battlements and saw the Greeks approaching with gifts. The gifts, once you have taken them, will always be with you, and will poison everything you do. The Press, of all the industries in this country, should remain independent. When I say "independent", I mean financially independent. But for the concentration of newspapers which has taken place, you would have only four newspapers now. There are four interests which are being helped; lame dogs that are being helped by other newspapers which are owned by the same company. I dare say that there may be one or two which will lapse. Having six newspapers all different is far better than having Government help. That is keeping right away from politics, and I hope that even the noble 610 Lord on the opposite Bench will never agree to that.
I do not think the future is anything like as bad as some people have made out in their speeches. We are dependent to a great extent on advertising revenue, but that will come back. We are in a recession at the present. I know that we must not use this word "slump". But it is a slump, nevertheless. Advertising at the moment is less than it was in the worst of the depression times in1931. I do not expect it to last, but that is the situation, and that has been the situation since last September. It is worse than 1931, worse than at any time in my life. These things never remain the same. Advertising will come back in the same way that prosperity will come back. You will then see the newspaper proprietors looking more cheerful. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, looks quite cheerful; there are some who do not look so cheerful. They will look just as cheerful as Lord Thomson of Fleet the moment everything looks rosy and prosperous again. I suggest to your Lordships that we do not get too excited about this matter. If we treat it seriously, but optimistically, I am sure that all will come right for Fleet Street.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I suppose I ought to declare an interest, in that I have all my working life made my living out of newspapers and my pen, and I was, if that is an interest, one of the additional members of the Monopolies Commission which considered The Times/Sunday Times merger. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, did not seem to think very much of the Monopolies Commission's decision, although Lord Thomson of Fleet thought more of it. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said he did not think it was the Monopolies Commission's finest hour. I do not know how many finest hours the Monopolies Commission had, but personally I thought it was rather a good one. I thought we reached not only the most sensible but, perhaps, the only possible solution. I thought that the one point on which we laid great emphasis, that of assurances as to the independence of the individual editors of the two newspapers, was a principle which could, and should, apply far beyond those of the merger relationship.
611 I want to say here that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, gave the most definite and specific assurances on that point, and I am sure that they will be honoured. Many things can be said about Lord Thomson of Fleet—and Lord Arran has said some of them—but on the whole you cannot say that he shows any particular inclination to want to edit his own newspapers. That is probably because he has so many of them! Practically everybody thinks they could edit one newspaper, but nobody but a fool would think they could edit 140 newspapers.
I imagine that the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, on the other hand, does more editing of his own newspapers than does Lord Thomson of Fleet—at least I hope he does, because to judge by the speed with which he gets through paid editors it is rather essential there should be somebody around who is thinking of the editorial content. Now he assures us that the Daily Mail is going to be a lot better. I hope so. I read it regularly; I read all the newspapers regularly, and I shall look with enormous interest to see what new results the "Editorial Rothermere, Brain "is producing. What we are concerned with here, of course, is the state of the Press. Although people in this country read more newspapers per thousand population than any other country in the world, as a whole newspapers have been dying. We read more but we publish less.
Where did it all begin? On the whole, I suppose it began when Lord Rothermere's uncle, Lord Northcliffe, and his father decided—and very skilfully and intelligently decided—to offer a penny paper for a halfpenny when they launched the Daily Mail. They started on a system of offering newspapers at a cut price in order to create a market which advertisers would want to pay to approach. Enormous consequences have followed from that decision. For the plain, hard fact at the very centre of all these newspaper problems and issues is that, in the main, newspapers are sold for too little from their readers and have to try to get too much from their advertisers.
Several proposals have been put forward. Earlier in the debate I thought I would analyse them, but they have 612 been analysed by so many other noble Lords that no more analysis is required. On the whole I must say that I agree with those who dismiss all such proposals. Nearly all of them involve some form of control, of circulation or advertising revenue or one thing or another, just as a good deal of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Report involved suggestions for better controls of one sort and another—some of them admirable, and let us hope they will be adopted. But I am bound to say that as I read that Report and as I read many of these proposals I find myself being irresistibly reminded of a comment by the poet, Roy Campbell, on some modern poets praised for their restraint:They use the snaffle and the bit all right. But where's the bloody horse?The horse in journalism, in the Press, is the editorial content. When a minatory finger is wagged by the Economist Intelligence Unit at the Daily Express, for example, for having 30 per cent. more editorial staff than any other paper, it really shows that they do not understand what the whole operation is about. You may like the Daily Express or you may dislike it; you may agree with it or you may disagree with it; but it has made a great success because it has always realised that the business of a newspaper is to get news and to employ people to get it. One can be sure that wherever news happens the Daily Express. because it has 30 per cent. more editorial staff than anybody else, will have that story well covered by capable and often very talented people. That is not a failure of managerial skill; it is understanding what newspapers are there for.
I do not dismiss all the various proposals that have been put forward for advertising and for newsprint subsidies, and so on, simply because they might involve something of the philosophy of a Government interest or intervention. I do not believe that is necessarily always bad. Indeed, in small ways it happens, as has been said already. Apparently nobody in the Press wants to do away with the Commonwealth penny rate for cables, which was brought about (and all credit to him) by the late Brendan Bracken when he was Minister of Information. I remember when I was in Lord Thomson of Fleet's home country, Canada, I found, to my great pleasure, that because I was a journalist I could travel free, from the 613 East coast to the West coast of that vast country, because it had been laid down, in great wisdom, by the Government that an essential part of keeping the country together was to make it possible for newspapers, even small newspapers, to send their reporters freely across it. It might be said that in so doing they were financing the weak as well as the powerful who could afford to pay the railway fares; but they believed there was a public interest in doing so. And if there were a public interest and it could be shown to be so, I, for one, should not be against some Government intervention.
The reason I oppose the various proposals that have been put forward is that they all seem to me to be directed to trying to insulate the Press from the second half of the 20th century. They are all attempting to freeze a structure which in many ways has to be altered. We cannot preserve a free Press in aspic and keep it there for ever. With the best will in the world, I am afraid I do not believe that the Press can be saved by gimmicks. Just as the freedom of the Press involves the right of newspapers to publish freely, so it involves essentially the freedom of readers to read the papers they want to read, and any interference with that is a gross interference with Press freedom. I would add to that also the freedom of advertisers to advertise where they want to and where they believe it will be best for them so to do. I do not believe one can complain of that at all.
However, there is one aspect of this problem of the newspaper industry at which we might have to take a look. One of the great problems at the present time, and also one of the great opportunities, is that of the immense technological changes that are ahead and that are already taking place in newspaper production. Although eventually many of those technological changes will lead to the cheaper flay-by-day production of newspapers, and often the more efficient and better production of newspapers, the problem at this stage is that they involve heavy capital expenditure. When one considers what it used to cost to found even a national newspaper a little while ago and then one considers that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, had to spend £2 million on getting ready to launch two provincial evening papers 614 because of the immensly higher cost of the technological developments, I suggest there might well be a case for Government consideration of whether there ought not to be set up a newspaper research organisation, to carry out the necessary research into technological advances to ascertain what are likely to be the most practical ones in the next five or ten years.
Secondly, there might well be a case for a national newspaper finance corporation which could advance loans at low interest—or perhaps even free of interest—to newspapers to enable them to reequip to meet the technological challenges of the present time when they lack the capital resources to do so themselves. We should be doing no more in this field than we are doing on an immensely larger scale in the aircraft industry, and if it is a national interest to maintain a good efficient aircraft industry, then it is no less a national interest to maintain a free and varied Press. I hope that some consideration will be given to that point.
But whatever is done in that field, or in any other field, it remains the fact that some newspapers are sold at too low a price. When you say that, people are inclined to say, "Oh, but if you put up the price of newspapers it merely means that people will stop taking the weaker ones and they will suffer more", or else, "You cannot do that because the successful newspapers are not prepared to do it". This, to me, is the sort of basic mistake that some people make when they tell you that they read something in "the paper". There is not a "the paper"; there are a good many different papers, appealing to different publics. I see no reason why there should not be a much bigger price differential between newspapers of various categories than exists at present. We accept the sense, the need, and the requirement, of such a price differential in the periodical magazine market. Nobody expects to get, shall we say, the Queen for the same price as the mass circulation Woman; or that they must not expect to pay more than a penny or two more for Punch or the Economist than for Reveille. They know that they are buying magazines tailored, if you like, to their minority taste, and they are prepared to pay for that minority taste. I am very fond of a glass of beer, and very good it is, but when, as I frequently do, 615 I want a bottle of claret, I expect to pay more for it; and if I want a quality magazine serving a particular interest in which I am concerned and, because of that, likely to have a much smaller circulation than a mass circulation paper, I am prepared to pay more for that.
I think we ought to be (and whether we ought to be or not, we shall have to learn to be), prepared to pay more for news-payers in these same sort of categories. It is not at all necessary that the Daily Mirror should go up in price before the Guardian can go up in price; they are quite different animals, if I may use the word, and we must be prepared to consider them as such. After all, these quality papers which are particularly challenged at the moment are on an amazingly rising market, when you consider that in the last 30 years the circulation of quality national daily newspapers has risen from a total of only 850,000 to over 2,400,000, and that of Sunday newspapers from 475,000 to 2,900,000. Look at the immense obvious demand for such papers that exists. And the interesting thing about the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation returns for the last six months of last year is that every single quality newspaper, daily or Sunday, shows a further rise in circulation; and that in a period of what is supposed to be general Fleet Street gloom. If papers are wanted, those who want them must be prepared to pay for them, and the sensible way for newspapers to progress is to base their economies on that hard, simple fact. I believe that if they did a quite considerable change in the situation would come.
In conclusion, let me turn to one other factor in the newspaper situation of a somewhat different kind, which seems to me to be of importance. What used to be regarded as a great peril of the development of modern popular journalism was, only a comparatively few years ago, the fear that newspapers would fall into the hands of megolomaniacs who would use them for their own private purposes and to push forward their own policies. I do not believe that that fear exists any longer. As I have said, you can say a lot of things about the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for example, but nobody can say that he is a megalomaniac—at least not that kind of megalomaniac—and I do not believe that he has ever conceived of wanting to buy newspapers 616 in order to press on to the public his own eccentric philosophies of whatever kind they may be. He wants them because he believes that they may be made into good businesses, and I think it is a very good thing for the newspaper industry that he came over here from Canada.
The newspaper industry has always been a highly protected industry, because by the nature of things it does not have to deal with overseas foreign competition in any way; and until commercial television came along it did not have to deal with competition for advertising outlets. I believe they badly needed a shake-up, and the noble Lord has given it. I can only confess to my shame that when I originally met him in Canada many years ago before the last World War, I perceived no gleam of this future business greatness in him; I thought he was a very nice, simple chap, who ran a number of quite good, middling papers in a number of middling towns.
The noble Lord said that the mistake the Guardian had made was to decide to move out of one league into another. But good Heavens! think what he has done; he has moved right up the league table. We want people to keep on moving up into a new league. If the noble Lord does not mind me saying so (and, for that matter, if he does) the danger of his approach is that there is a danger that journalism, which is, so to speak, a profession or a calling inside an industry, will become a profession inside an industry which is increasingly dominated by the business philosophy; a philosophy of believing that for commercial success it is a good thing to be all things to all men, and to take the non-controversial middle way. That, I think, is the great danger of the one-newspaper towns, the bland leading the bland. It seems to me that journalism only survives, and only deserves to survive, when it has a sharp cutting edge, and is prepared to make enemies as well as friends.
In this situation I believe we need, and shall need more and more, to strengthen the professional element in the newspaper industry, and that is why I was so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, as I expected he would be, was so willing and ready to give the assurances on editorial freedom that were 617 asked for before the Monopolies Commission. But to strengthen that professional element, journalists themselves must be prepared to stand up and be counted when need be, and their professional organisations and also the Press Council must be prepared to provide counterbalances to the pressures of commercial philosophy when that is required. I believe, as a journalist myself, that journalism is one of the great and most necessary callings in our age. I think it is now time that Fleet Street should stop sweating and whining about its condition and get down to its real job of bringing the news to the people, and being prepared to take risks to do so.
§ 6.20 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I am a little apprehensive about joining in this debate. As a Bishop, unlike those who have contributed so far I am neither an owner, a proprietor nor a manager. I have not sat on any Commission. I am not a regular contributor. The only thing that I can say is that from time to time I do help the newspapers fill up their columns. I have one basic point to make, and it is this. In spite of the risks, the newspaper industry should be left free to work out its own salvation. At first glance, it may seem sensible to subsidise the weaker papers, but I am sure the consequences would be unsatisfactory because of the possibilities of State interference. That is what must be avoided at all costs. Any of your Lordships who have been in Communist countries will know how boring are the newspapers there—mere propaganda sheets. The same was true of Germany and Italy before the war, and the same is partly true of South Africa and Rhodesia to-day. News is doctored, facts are distorted and minorities are silenced.
I am well aware that our own Press is far from perfect, and there are some papers whose disappearance I would not greatly lament. But it is a pity, in my judgment, that the majority of papers tend to side with one particular political Party with the result that the Socialist view of life is rarely shown in a favourable light. Even so, the Press does provide a public platform in our national life. It may be argued that the platform is in danger of collapsing and that we should bolster it up. But is that true? 618 It is possible to be far too alarmist about the industry. The Report of the Economist Intelligence Unit dealt with only N.P.A. matters—for example, with national newspapers and the London evening papers. I think that the newspaper industry as a whole is in a reasonably healthy condition; suffering a recession, most certainly, but not in a mortal crisis.
Let us, for a change, look at some of the good things about the Press. During the past decade a number of circumstances have brought about a leap forward in the general standards: more educated readership, the competitive element of television news, the critical columns about newspapers in weekly magazines and elsewhere. There is the work of the Press Council. All these things have contributed something. As a result, there has been far more reporting in depth, more intelligent writing than ever before, more exposure of scandal and a greater sense of social responsibility. After all, it was the newspapers who first exposed the evils of Rachmanism, the extent of bribery in professional football, the rising incidence of drug-taking among teenagers in London, the antique furniture ring, the wine racket and many other social scandals.
Moreover, I gladly acknowledge the improved standards in my own walk of life. While there are still papers, alas! which delight in sensationalising the misdemeanours of erring clergymen and dwell upon ecclesiastical trivialities of no account, yet it is not true of the majority. Some of the major theological debates in the past ten years that have caused widespread interest in this country and beyond have been started in the Press. The Church has every reason to be thankful for the help it receives from the Press in so many matters.
If the editorial side of the newspapers is looking healthier, as I have suggested, is the management falling down on its job? I should have thought that the Economist Intelligence Unit Report did not disclose any state of affairs which the newspaper industry could not itself put right. Do not forget that it was the employers and the unions who commissioned the Report, and it cost £47,000. That is not the sort of money that even a rich industry cares to throw away in an empty 619 gesture. It is likely that the newspaper industry intends to do something about it. Indeed, it is expected that they will ask for possible recommendations from the E.I.U. And if they do, then, according to the conservative estimate of the Report, some £5 million could be saved.
It is worth recording that the gloomy predictions that one quality daily newspaper, two popular daily newspapers and one quality Sunday paper may be forced to cease publication in the next five years are based upon certain questionable assumptions—and even those questionable assumptions fail to take into account the possible effects that the survey may have on the newspaper industry. Obviously, the survey must have an effect; therefore the intense gloom produced by the publication of the Report should not be taken too seriously. It is, I think, unnecessarily alarmist. In fact, those newspapers that are in the worst trouble are so, in my opinion, either because they have been badly edited or badly managed, or both.
The quality paper really in trouble is obviously the Guardian. It so happens that I read The Times every day, but occasionally I see the Guardian. Why that is, I do not know. Perhaps it is just habit that I take The Times, but I find the Guardian more interesting, more imaginative and much less pompous and less self-righteous than The Times. And as for its editorials, I think they win hand-over-fist, perhaps because, as a good Anglican, I dislike pretentions to infallibility. However, having raised my hat, and indeed my mitre, to the Guardian, I must then admit that the story of the Guardian's move to London and the failure of the management even to ask the unions if they would agree to equipment which would allow all the setting to be done in one centre is a quite extraordinary example of amateurish bungling. The gross over-optimism of the last annual report, followed by the grim decision to impose heavy redundancies, indicates that the people who inherited the control of the organisation were barely fit for their job. I see no reason why the State should subsidise the inefficiency of the Guardian management. If the present management cannot run the business any better, then they should give way to more capable hands.
620 Then there is the Sunday Telegraph. I like the Sunday Telegraph, in spite of its politics, because it is one of the few Sunday "qualities" that one can hold in one's hands without discomfort. I find the acres and acres of newsprint in the Observer and the Sunday Times somewhat overwhelming. Moreover, the Sunday Telegraph is brilliantly written, and there is a high standard of City coverage. Even its gossip column is an example of what a gossip column should be. And yet the Sunday Telegraph has been losing money for a long time, perhaps ever since it began. Then why was it started? When the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, took away the printing contract for the Sunday Times, was there any real need for another quality paper? I doubt it. Here again, the management decision must be questioned, and I see no reason why the State or anybody else should help the management out.
Let me now come to the popular dailies—the Sun and presumably the Sketch. The Sun rose on the sinking wreck of the Daily Herald, a newspaper which, if the facts are correct, was largely ruined by the T.U.C. After a glittering advertisement campaign, the first few issues were the biggest disappointment I remember. The Sun was not a newspaper but an inferior daily magazine. Despite the fact that it has now improved, there can be no surprise that the sale of the Sun is well below that of the Daily Herald, and still falling, according to the latest figures. Again, why should the State step in to remedy the consequences of such editorial folly? I will not waste words on the Sketch. I am told it is a quite lively Conservative picture paper and is trying to hoist itself by its own bootstraps; but who here, or indeed elsewhere, would be too disheartened at its disappearance?
There is nothing sacrosanct about the current number of newspapers. I recall the lamentations that accompanied the obsequies of the News Chronicle. It was the last popular Liberal newspaper, but since its death the Liberal Party has grown in numbers. It does not seem, therefore, that the death of a newspaper has struck Liberalism a mortal blow. And so one could continue to show how newspapers, by bungling, shortsightedness and restrictive practices, land themselves in trouble. It is for these reasons that I hope we shall set our faces against any 621 financial assistance to newspapers which might open the door to State interference.
The control of advertising, the subsidising of newsprint, the imposition of levies on the successful to benefit the unsuccessful—all these ideas are ultimately methods of subsidising inefficiency. I agree that the situation is serious, though not desperate. Something must be done. Proprietors, managements, and unions need to face the truth and to act upon it if they are to remain in Fleet Street and not move down to Queer Street. This has been the purport of my remarks, but I end as I began. Changes there must be; but the State must stay out of the newspaper industry and the newpaper industry must take care of itself.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to commence my few remarks by associating myself with the congratulations expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Buckton, on his maiden speech. Many of us knew Lord Buckton in another place, where we held him in respect and affection, and I am sure we were all delighted with his authoritative and knowledgeable speech to-day. We are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who commenced his speech by telling us that he was going to deploy the situation but would offer no sort of remedy for it. It struck me that he was rather like a jockey who takes his horse to look at the jumps on the course, and then says, "I don't like the look of it at all", and refuses to enter the race. However, many other noble Lords since have faced the jumps in various ways.
Certainly, I find the grand inquest of the Economist Intelligence Unit neither surprising nor particularly impressive, for this reason. I believe that the same report could be written, with varying emphasis, about many of our industries to-day. Certainly it could be written about the aircraft and the motor industries. These same charges of managerial inefficiency, over-manning, restrictive practices can all be applied, in varying degrees, to the industries I have mentioned, and, I believe, to many others. Furthermore, the same sad effects of faults in the breakdown of human relations could be applied to other industries. 'The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, spoke of the irresponsibility 622 of the lightning strike, the sudden withdrawal of labour; and I agree with him entirely. But I believe that many of those stoppages are brought about not by evil men who wish bad of their industry, but by exasperated men who feel that they are remote from the leaders who represent them on the shop floor and in the consultation room. They are due to lack of decision; to the lack of strength of negotiating machinery; to a procedure so slow that the little issues become great ones. This could be written of many other industries, quite apart from the Press. These are the reasons why I do not feel very surprised at or impressed by the E.I.U. Report.
Both in your Lordships' House and outside criticism has been based broadly on two grounds: the ground of inefficiency and the ground of concentration of ownership of the Press. If I may take the first criticism, much has been said about it and there is little of value that I can add. But it seems to me clear that in past years management has connived at, and indeed has not contested, the degree of overmanning and a number of restrictive practices. In past years they may well have said, "Why not?" If some papers have profit margins, a nice cushion of profit that can absorb unduly high costs, then the prosperous ones know that others without those profit margins are going to be placed in difficulties. If there is this high cost acceptance, the marginal rivals will be squeezed. I also would say: Why not? I do not see that there is anything tragic or immoral in that situation. Is it any more commercially immoral than a supermarket loss-leader? I do not see that it is. It is the law of commerce. The advertisement revenue flies to the big and the successful, and when there are fewer advertisements about the bigger ones, as the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, pointed out, are going to get more.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that it was up to the industry to cure its own ills. That was his message. This is the plight, and the cause is not over-manning, restrictive practices or inefficiency. The E.I.U. Report gives a very small percentage indeed to the total costs for which these elements are responsible. The real basic cause is the Government's policy of deflation and its very wide effects on our wholesale and retail life. 623 Of course economies in costs are desirable, and can help to stave off the effects of the economic illness; but they are no cure. The cure is in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, quoted the Prime Minister's warning, but the remedy lies not with the industry itself but with the Government's economic policy. We read that there is the plight of three dailies and one Sunday paper. I submit that there is nothing sacred about the number of national dailies. The nation does not owe the Press a living; nor can the Press demand a living from the nation.
So I come for a moment to the second point—concentration of ownership. I feel that a lot of cant is talked about the precious preservation of editorial freedom and freedom of newspapers being endangered. What does "editorial freedom" really mean? Does it mean that a Left-Wing view should be expressed in a Right-Wing paper, or does it mean that a Left-Wing paper should be forced to report on, and to give details in support of, Right-Wing policy? Is that what "freedom "means? Nobody has defined what "editorial freedom" really means. Quite frankly, one finally comes down to one man having the say—the editor or the proprietor. If I had to receive the views of one of these two on the grave economic issues facing the country, then frankly, I would prefer the views of the proprietor who has had to fight hard in the harsh world of commerce to compete and keep his papers alive, rather than those of the editor, who has probably spent his life in professional journalism, sheltered by his desk from the realities of economic life, and whose intellectual food has probably been the theories of others.
In practice, however, we see that ownership does not mean control by one man. If your Lordships want to see editorial freedom, look at the capitalist-owned Daily Mirror, which is constantly expressing most pro-Government and anti-Right-Wing views. That is editorial freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, who spoke to us this afternoon, allows his editors to have complete freedom of expression. So I believe that in fact, for commercial reasons, proprietors do give their editors freedom of expression. But even if they did not, I should prefer to have the proprietor's view than that of a chair-borne, theorist editor.
624 I want to say one word on the question of The Times merger. The noble Earl. Lord Arran, said that The Times—and I took down his words—is more than a newspaper: it is an institution. It has an accustomed voice. He deplored the take-over, but what he did not say was that if there had not been the take-over that institution would not exist; that accustomed voice would probably have been silenced, and there would probably have been no Times at all. But the noble Earl did not quite deal with that aspect. I personally have no fears for The Times take-over. I rejoice at the salvage of what would have been a sinking ship, and, with the safeguards which have been written into the sanction by the Monopolies Commission, one can see that editorial freedom will remain. For several weeks the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has been jibing at my noble friend Lord Thomson of Fleet, with whom I was associated for some years, though I am not now. He has conducted in the Evening News, and again to-day, a bit of a powder-puff and lemon-drop campaign, not very forcibly and not very effective. I personally rejoice that the future of The Times is secure, and I rejoice in the structure of safeguards.
Again, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, reminded us of the Prime Minister's words: that in a free democracy people are entitled to hear all views. I am not quite sure what the phrase "the interests of democracy "really means. Does it mean that economic laws are to be transgressed? Does it mean that there are to be some of those measures which have been almost universally condemned today, except by the noble Lord, Lord Peddie (and I thought the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, went a little way in that direction)? Because all those proposals—the levies on the strong, the subsidy for newsprint, and even the recent proposal in one of the papers that the Government should run a daily paper, which Heaven forbid!—are in some form or another penalising the successful, in order to support the weak and the unsuccessful.
I believe that every one of those proposals should be chucked overboard; and the Government should keep out of interfering with the Press. Normal economic forces must operate in the issue of Press survival. Nevertheless, the 625 Government have a part to play, because, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, and I conclude with the same point, the Government have the key to the matter in their economic policy. The best help the Government could give would be to get out. I do not expect that that course will appeal to them very much, but the next best help they could give would be to modify their economic policy. Let the Press, by all means, put its house in order where necessary, and let it get on with its job of being a free, competitive Press giving, without interference or fear, its news and its views.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
My Lords, before the noble Lord finally resumes his seat, perhaps he would expand on two points. If the plight of the Press is due to the policy of the present Government, how does he explain the fact that several newspapers went out of existence from economic pressure before this Government were in office? Secondly, how would he relate what the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, told us, that advertising revenue to-day is no more than it was in 1931, to the policy of the Government?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, if my recollection is right, the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, told us that never since he had been in Fleet Street had he known advertisement revenue so low as at the present time, not excluding 1931. I think he also said that the average drop in advertisement revenue to-day, due to the restrictive deflationary policy of Her Majesty's Government, is somewhere around 25 to 30 per cent.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, before the last remarks were made by the noble Lord, Lord, Balfour of Inchrye, I was going to say that it was gratifying that, on the whole, this debate had been conducted on a non-political basis. I found myself very much in agreement with a good deal that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said. I found myself much in agreement with what he said about the fact that the ills of this industry afflicted many other industries. I think it is a salutary thought that what has happened to the newspaper world is merely a symptom of what has happened elsewhere, and of 626 how, without watchfulness, we, as a society, not as any political Party, have allowed an economic system to evolve which is totally disastrous in its effects.
It is, I think, a disaster that no new newspaper can be launched to-day; but this is a truism not only in relation to newspapers. No new industry can be launched to-day. It is true to say that you cannot start a shoe factory. It is true to say that you cannot start a bicycle factory. I think there are factors germane to this discussion other than the mere fate of the Press. I do not want to dwell on them, but I profoundly agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he said that what we are discussing to-day is the symptom of a much wider malaise.
Another part of his speech with which I greatly agreed concerned his comments about the workpeople, which I thought were generous. I have been personally distressed by what I thought was over-stringent criticism of the workpeople in the newspaper industry. A legend has been put about that they are responsible for the misfortunes of the industry, that they have been blackmailing the industry and that they have been engaged in other enormities. There is no doubt that restrictive practices in trade unions are deplorable and have particularly affected the Press; but to suggest that the state in which the newspaper industry finds itself at this moment is due to the trade unions is, I think, both an oversimplification and a total unfairness to the unions as a whole.
I should like to state my belief that this is so, and that a too-often repetition of this sort of slander because—I think it is a slander—is not favourable or helpful to anyone. We want to discourage restrictive practices; and I think that, in consultation with the unions, as the newspaper proprietors are wisely engaged in, these practices can be relieved, can be altered and can be mitigated. But I do not think too much responsibility should be attributed to any particular quarter. If I may say so without disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, who made a most remarkable speech with the greatest integrity to-day, no newspaper compositor has contrived by any restrictive practices to become the proprietor of 140 newspapers. I think, if I may say so, that that is the most valid 627 comment one can make on the accusations which have been levelled at them.
Now, if I can bring the discussions back to the newspapers as a whole, the question we have to ask is really this: Do we share the composure, the positive enthusiasm, of the right reverend Prelate, who was retailing with great satisfaction the impending demise of various newspapers—so much so that I thought that before he had finished there would be none left at all? If I may say so, if there were any clerical gentleman I should like to conduct my funeral service, it would be he, because nobody would more effectively console the mourners on my demise by pointing out what a satisfactory thing it was. Do we share his composure and satisfaction, or have we anxieties and misgivings? That is really the question we have to answer. I am not sure that this debate has been very helpful. We had the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, which was an enunciation of a remarkable personal philosophy. But it is a philosophy personal only to a man who owns 140 newspapers. No one else on this earth owns 140 newspapers, and no one else could have enunciated such a philosophy. He is, as I say, a most remarkable man, but I think that when regarding the common scene we must disregard the meteors. I should be inclined to disregard the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, when considering the state of newspapers as a whole in this country. He is a phenomenon and we shall not see him repeated. That may be a matter of regret or it may be a matter of satisfaction, but it is a matter we have to take into account.
What we have to ask ourselves is this. Newspapers are disappearing and will disappear. I speak with the rather slender personal qualification of being the chairman of the trustees of a Sunday newspaper. This makes me no expert on newspapers, but fills me with a deep concern for the preservation of the existing newspapers. I do not think we can view with composure and satisfaction the prospect of newspapers disappearing. On the other side of the House the opinion has been expressed, principally by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, but also in other quarters, that it does not much matter. I think it does matter. 628 It matters vitally in a free democracy. We do not want to make light of the word "democracy". It is something we cherish. It is something to which we should attach cardinal and vital importance. And it is our duty to take special pains to preserve those attributes to a free democracy which are necessary to its preservation.
However appalling the risks may be (to use the Prime Minister's own expression), I do not think that State intervention in the world of newspapers will bring about an interference with their freedom or liberty. Those risks are only half the danger of allowing newspapers to disappear or to become consolidated in a few hands only. If I had to choose between the risks of State intervention and State subsidy or the risks of the indiscriminate disappearance of newspapers, as has been happening and is happening, then I would opt for State interference. But I do not believe that State interference is or will necessarily become a necessity. If newspapers will set their own houses in order, it is possible that they will prevent this disagreeable occurrence—because disagreeable it must be. But to set their own houses in order they will have to take a far more realistic viewpoint than we have heard expressed in this House to-day.
First, they will have to recognise what is happening. We have heard loose phraseology. To use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, there has been a lot of cant about saving The Times. But The Times has not been saved. The Times is a small, specialised publication having a circulation, I believe, of 300,000 odd, or something of that sort. That is not the newspaper which Lord Thomson of Fleet is saving, or the newspaper he is set on preserving. He is set on establishing a large, multi-circulation newspaper which will declare war on the Daily Telegraph. Are we to believe that this situation is to be saved by starting a war between the new, Thomson-owned Times and the Daily Telegraph? What can happen as a result of that war? One or other must go to the wall. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, says that The Times is safe. The Times is apparently safe only by creating risks for another newspaper.
629 The same point emerged from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who also made a speech which was courageous, because for a newspaper proprietor who has newspapers under challenge to come and speak publicly about the subject is a novelty in industrial ownership. He said that he hoped the Daily Mail would survive. He said nothing about the Daily Sketch. He did not tell. us how the Daily Mail was going to survive, what prospects it had of surviving, or what resources would be made available; or why those resources, those ideas, those devices, had not been pat into use previously. But what is certain is this: that if a number of free newspapers are to survive there must be a measure of agreement between the newspaper proprietors that they are not at total war: in short, that the ordinary commercial considerations of commercial battle a l'outrance cannot prevail. This may be distasteful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and it may possibly be distasteful to many Members on the Opposition Benches; but unless they are to accept a degree of self-restraint in this regard it is impossible to see how a sufficient number of newspapers to satisfy the requirements of a free democracy can prevail.
I think that the valuable message that can be sent out from this House is not that of horror and terror at the possibility of State intervention, not that of fear that we are going to interfere with some notional independence—for, after all, the word "independence" has a strange meaning where you relate it to an acceptance of one man owning 140 newspapers and a positive phobia and paralysis at the suggestion that the State might make a small subsidy to one or two others. It is a word with a very specialised meaning in that context. I would say that the message we have to send out to-day is that there must be a measure of agreement among the newspaper proprietors and in the newspaper world that they themselves want these newspapers to survive and will take reasonable and civilised steps, by arrangement between themselves, to see that they do. Otherwise, I would urge the Government to have ready plans to deal with the matter.
I should like to say a word on the question of subsidy, because I think that 630 a great deal of misunderstanding has been expressed on this subject, particularly by the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, said that if a subsidy was given to a variety of newspapers they would all lose their independence. This is a startling doctrine in this country at this time. We have subsidised a number of most important institutions, many of them concerned with the mind. The graphic instance that comes to mind is, of course, our universities. Our universities are State subsidised. Is there a person here who would suggest that our universities are not independent, that they are subservient to the people who provide the money, that they enjoy less freedom of expression or that they are fearful of speaking their minds because they get grants from the State? This would be arrant nonsense. I speak as the chairman of an organisation which lives by giving away subsidies; and, if I may say so, there never was a collection of customers who were so ready, and happily so, to bite the hand that feeds them as those of the Arts Council. I have yet to find a single instance of a customer of the Arts Council who would defer to the Arts Council or the Government because he had had a grant from us—and I shall be very sorry it the day ever arrives when there is such an occurrence. I do not think we need tremble in fear at the notion—
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? Possibly they might not bite the hand that feeds them if they were a little more certain that it fed them.
§ LORD GOODMAN
I am not quite sure what that interjection means, but if it means, as I hope it means, that they were left in a state of uncertainty about whether their grant was going on for ever unless they performed services of value to justify the grant, then I am quite satisfied to accept it as a tribute.
§ LORD SHAWCROSS
My Lords, would the noble Lord suggest that that would be the criterion applied to newspapers which received subsidies?
§ LORD GOODMAN
That is a fair question. I would suggest that we are able, in our wisdom, to find means of bestowing money upon newspapers from 631 non-political circles and through a nonpolitical organisation which leaves those newspapers in the hands of independent-minded people who are in no way dependent upon or subservient to the people who give money to them. To suggest otherwise is a reflection on the spirit and character of the people. I make this statement as a profound statement of my own beliefs in this matter. That is not to say that I would not recognise the appalling risks. I think, for instance, that it would be quite wrong to have a Government-owned printing press so that at any stage printing facilities might be withdrawn. I cannot see why, if it is a question of deciding whether newspapers are to continue to exist or to fall by the wayside according to the operation of the so-called economic laws, it should not be possible, on a perfectly respectable basis, to devise a means of giving them some kind of subsidy. If such a step became necessary, it would have my support; because I regard the alternative as a source of far greater injury and danger to the democratic society in which I wish to live.
My Lords, I should like to conclude by saying that I think we have a good Press; and I think that, over the years, we have a representative Press. In my view it is catastrophic that we cannot to-day even contemplate the possibility of establishing a new newspaper. I hope that we shall not send out from this House in any form a message that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds"; that we have only to sit back and the newspapers will recover from a temporary slump, and that everything will be well again. I do not believe this to be the case. But I think that a situation can be achieved where, by sensible agreement among the people concerned—the industry, the workers: all elements—it may be possible and should be possible to put the industry back on its feet. But it behoves a constant watchfulness, and it behoves a readiness on the part of those like ourselves who may have decisions to make to be prepared to take risks.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, may be counted upon to initiate an interesting debate. I am grateful to him for intro- 632 ducing this Motion, and I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Buckton, on his highly informative and very interesting maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear him very often in this Chamber.
I am not quite sure why I am taking part in this debate. As the arguments have come forward I see that I am not qualified in the least to do so, except that I buy four newspapers a day during the week and six on Sundays. I am not going to probe into the shortcomings of management and workers in this great Press industry, whose problems (and here I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye) are not dissimilar from the malaise in other sections of industry to-day. Many noble Lords much more competent than I am have already done so. I wish to make a few brief comments on this fascinating industry having been stimulated by the reports in the Press of the latest, very lengthy Economist Intelligence Unit Report.
The Report uncovers many anomalies among newspapers and finds no common denominator of success. It suggests that possibly the newspaper industry's greatest problem lay in the fact that it is dominated by a small number—and here I quote:of highly individualistic proprietors with their own personal interests and philosophy.Of course, there is an aura about selling newspapers that is absent from, let us say—and other noble Lords have said it—selling boots and shoes. It is probable that the hoot and shoe industry also is dominated by a small number of "highly individualistic proprietors with their own personal interest and philosophy," but these do not intrude on the public mind.
The individualistic newspaper proprietors differ greatly one from the other. One may have his finger on the pulse of the newspaper for twenty-four hours a day (as I have heard the late Lord Beaver brook had), dictating its policy. Another may act by remote control. I think Lord Thomson of Fleet comes under that category; he apparently delegates policy to his lieutenants. Good management, the Report said, was not the only factor for profit-making—although, of course, I would say that it helps. Somehow, each newspaper has to conjure up its own magic formula, with a shrewd 633 idea of a particular kind of readership in mind. In the case of the popular dailies, circulation generates advertising, and advertising boosts circulation in a kind of profit-making symbiosis.
Reading one or more newspapers a day is, I believe, the least harmful addiction of our age; and we get accustomed to the face of the newspaper we take, whether we agree with its views or not. I must admit that when I was in New York with the United Nations I never got used to the face of the New York Times, good newspaper though it is, with its abominable printing, its acres of advertisements and its news set out like a jigsaw puzzle, with every item on page one carried over about twenty pages further on. I had a real nostalgia for British newspapers; and I hope that they will never copy this kind of lay-out. Also I personally hope that I shall not have to buy the Observer, one of my favourite Sunday papers, in order to read the New York Times.
To-day there are several good newspapers of reasonably high standard whose existence is threatened. This is, I believe, a cause for anxiety, but not for alarm. The trend towards fewer newspapers with massive circulations is not a very happy one. Diversity does, after all, add up to greater freedom of expression. The main obstacle to overcoming this trend is the economic structure of the industry and its complete underpinning (some would say "undermining") by advertising revenue. But an improvement in the economic situation of the country—as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, implied—a lessening of restrictive practices in management and labour, a price increase for some quality papers: all these factors, acting together, could stop the rot.
My Lords, I have spoken of familiarity with the face of a newspaper as contributing to a stable circulation. But this does not necessarily imply a lifelong attachment. A newspaper sometimes needs a face-lift: new ideas and new policies pay off. There are two recent and very big examples of this. One is the Sunday Times, whose innovation of a colour supplement acted as a blood transfusion to its circulation and further increased its competitiveness, making its competitors look rather anæmic.
The Daily Mirror is another example. Five years ago the Daily Mirror changed 634 course and decided to become a much more serious paper. Did its vast circulation decline? On the contrary, between 1963 and 1966 its circulation increased by 343,000. Its new formula was calculated to appeal to the young in heart and to the progressive young workers. The pages were not overloaded with political news but leavened with an occasional nude, and they included a free advisory service to the Government—a subtle way of serving up domestic politics in a more digestible form. All this is a tribute to the entrepreneur spirit. I myself believe that it is more of this spirit that we need in many newspapers to-day.
Although the prospect of being left with a few giant newspapers is unpalatable, even less attractive to me is the idea of Government subsidies of some kind for ailing newspapers. A few fringe benefits could be contemplated, such as reduced charges for postal and cabling facilities. We in our democracy cherish the independence of the Press, even though sometimes we suffer from its freedom. When I am at the United Nations I am always extolling the virtues of our free Press, even though, ironically, it provides the ammunition for attacks on us by those critics who keep their own Press muzzled and minimal.
Though the outlook of the newspaper industry is gloomy just now, the fact that the readership has fallen over the last ten years seems to me easily explained by the advent and progress of television, and to be no particular cause for alarm. Perhaps the rise and fall of certain newspapers is a natural phenomenon and not just a symptom of the present malaise in our economy. But what is disquieting is the absolute dependence of newspapers on advertising revenue. It is particularly important for our increasing population and the ever-increasing ramifications and complications of Government machinery to have a healthy and flourishing Press.
Finally, my Lords, I believe that the main function of the Press to-day is to protect the individual from the tentacles of an ever-expanding bureaucracy and from all abuses of power in every field. That is why we are tolerant when, among other things, it deflates millionaires, "debags" politicians and even skims the fat off excessive adulation. And here I include The Times which, it seems to me, people are canonising—the late Times, 635 shall we say, before the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, took it over. To speak of it as an "institution" is, I believe, too much of a good thing. There have been occasions when The Times has not behaved at all well—after the First World War, for instance. As I say, we accept the discomforts that we suffer from a free Press because, of course, the Press at its best must be a kind of Ombudsman overlord, exposing injustice wherever it exists; and, whatever its tribulations, the Press must maintain its complete independence.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
My Lords, it is already getting rather late, and there are still a few more noble Lords who wish to speak, and therefore I intend to be extremely brief. I should first declare that I have a personal interest, in that I am managing director of the Financial Times, and I was recently elected Vice-Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association. I suppose I should also state that I am a member of the Board of the Economist Intelligence Unit, although I was not a party to the decision to invite them to conduct this Survey; nor was I at any time consulted about it or shown the Report until it was published.
I should like to confine my remarks to the action which I should like to see taken, following the issue of this Report. But first, perhaps, one could refer back to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press, which was so ably presided over by the noble and learned Lord. Lord Shawcross, who made, I thought, a most excellent speech this afternoon and one which was full of wisdom. As the noble and learned Lord reminded us, his Report had a great deal to say about productive efficiency in the newspaper industry, and I do not think it was quite right of the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, to suggest that no notice was taken of it. I think this is far from true because, following on the publication of the Royal Commission's Report, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association wrote to the various unions proposing that outside management consultants should be brought in to assist in a fundamental reassessment of the industry and all its problems. This was at the beginning of 1963. The purpose was to see what could be done to achieve reductions in the great variety of 636 wage categories and the amount of casual working in the industry, with the idea of trying to aim at a much more closely knit and more efficient labour force with higher basic rates of pay, sickness provisions, better pensions, and so on.
This was put to the unions but, unfortunately, they disliked the idea of bringing in outside consultants at that time, and so the scheme, as it was then proposed, fell through. But talks went on, and in 1964 there were wage negotiations. At that time it was agreed, in line with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, that a Joint Board should be established which was to comprise the general secretaries of the various printing unions, together with directors of the individual newspaper companies. I think the setting up of this Board will prove to have been a very great step forward in industrial relations and in industrial co-operation.
My Lords, the Board was given extremely wide terms of reference. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, was already proving a most successful independent Chairman of the Press Council. I should like to say in passing that, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, became Chairman of the Press Council, criticism of the ethics, and so on, of the Press has very much diminished, due, I think, to his influence. The noble and learned Lord agreed to become the independent Chairman of the Joint Board. This gave us all a great deal of gratification. The Board met and decided that there should be a complete study of all the circumstances of the industry, much more detailed than anything which was incorporated in the Report of the Royal Commission.
As your Lordships know, the work was given to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Report has now been published. Whether it was right or wrong to publish it, I do not know; it is a matter for discussion. I think that in the circumstances it was right, although it might have created a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty for people. But there it is. The Report is now available for all the world to see. I do not think that any newspaper office would agree with all the strictures contained in this Report. I think it is very clinical in its approach, and does not pay enough regard to the fact that bringing out a newspaper is an 637 art as well as a science; and individual papers have their own particular quality which has nothing particularly to do with the excellence or otherwise of the management. Nevertheless, all our shortcomings are here exposed, as indeed they would be in the case of any industry whose affairs had been so mercilessly revealed, and I think we all agree now that we must not allow the opportunity of taking remedial action to pass.
The Joint Board has arranged a series of meetings and I believe they are going to work out a very detailed plan of campaign. I hope that, as a result of the talks, there will be a complete renegotiation of the existing wage agreements. This was what was hoped for in 1963, when the approach was made to the unions. A cynic could say that the prospect of success is no greater now than it was then but, my Lords, I disagree. I think that the atmosphere has most definitely changed, and I am lull of hope that something satisfactory will emerge. The agreements in their present form are very much out of date, and not suited to to-day's conditions, just as there are many practices which we condone. I hope that we shall be able to achieve a much fairer wage structure, with take-home pay much more closely related to basic rates than it is now and with all the improvements in pension schemes, sickness pay and working conditions generally which are needed.
The negotiations would be tremendously helped if there were a single printing union, just as this would help to eliminate some of the more ridiculous demarcation disputes which we have to put up with at the present time. But there has been a number of amalgamations of printing unions in recent years and I have good reason to believe that the leading figures on the union side are now definitely keen to get ahead with the organisation of a single union for the printing industry. And I pray that they will succeed for, if this could happen, it would be an immense step forward.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Report has predicted that if the present cost structure remains unaltered, four national newspapers will go out of business by 1970. This was based on the assumption that nothing is done. I will not accept this assumption and therefore will not 638 accept the prediction. The Newspaper Proprietors' Association, which is a far more effective and comprehensive body to-day than the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is willing to concede, is taking a number of collective steps to improve efficiency in the industry. Management training schemes are being devised and a whole lot of other things, about which I will not bore your Lordships. They are also giving all the assistance they can to the work of the Joint Board.
This does not mean that over the years there will be no changes in the number or titles of the newspapers which are published. I do not think there is anything particularly sacrosanct about the pattern that exists at any given time, and changes are bound to occur. I should deplore the taking of action by the Government to freeze the pattern in its present form. Indeed, I do not know, despite what has been said during the course of the afternoon, what action the Government could take which would not involve invidious discrimination.
There has been talk about the imposition of a tax on or a restriction in the amount of advertising newspapers could carry. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, put the case against this as effectively as anybody could. I would only assure your Lordships that the certain effect of a restriction on advertising would be to hit the so-called quality newspapers very much harder than the popular newspapers, because they depend to a far greater extent for their revenue upon advertising. Taking the simple instance of the Financial Times, we get over 80 per cent. of our revenue from advertising, whereas the Daily Mirror gets 30 per cent; so that for us to be told that we can have only half of our revenue or less from advertising would be a mortal blow. It might be said that that is not a serious matter, but, being prejudiced, I think it would be. At any rate, I hope—and I think it is the general feeling of the House, with one or two notable exceptions—that at the present time the industry will be left to work out its own salvation.
We have now got all the facts. We have an absolute plethora of facts. And we are going to work very hard to find a solution. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who made 639 his usual stimulating and brilliant speech, without a note, concise and clear and making one feel conscious of one's own short-comings, that what he said about the need for a sort of self-denying ordinance among newspaper proprietors will be taken to heart, although it is easy to say that something should be done in this respect and very difficult to see what can be done. We will certainly remember what he said, as we always do.
As a result of the study that we are going to make it may be necessary to have increases in selling prices, changes of production techniques and other things which we cannot foresee. The noble Lord, Lord Peddie, suggested that there might be some sharing of printing plants. All these things have to be explored. I want to assure your Lordships that the will for survival does exist and that it is very strong. I do not think we should be too despondent. I think we should be given a bit of time. For the moment, let us concentrate on getting a bit of buoyancy back into the economy; otherwise we are all going to be in a mess.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I imagine that I ought to declare an interest, however modest and small. I have been a weekly contributor to a periodical for the last fifteen years, and if it were not improper to do so I would commend the periodical in question. I have no expertise in this field and a massive ignorance about the affairs of the Press in general, more particularly about matters on which such wisdom has been displayed and so much expert knowledge has been distributed in your Lordships' House during the last few hours. This debate is an endeavour to ventilate the problems that confront the Press. I would presume to say what I have to say in a particular context, Not knowing much about the Press, I have proceeded on the more deductive principle of coming to some general thoughts which ought to apply to the Press as to any other human activity, and trying to examine those basic considerations in the light of the various Reports that have been presented, particularly that of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
It seems to me that the great and decisive change in the Press in modern times has come about through the emer- 640 gence of radio and television. Before that, the primary fount of public fact was indubitably the Press. But from the days of the emergence of radio and televison, what the Press could offer has tended to change. I remember distinctly going to school as a boy in 1915. During the morning we heard the mutter of guns across the Channel. In the afternoon, as I approached school, a newsvendor came into the road with a bunch of newspapers, and I can still see the people hurrying from their houses to find out what was going on. That was before radio.
Even to-day a great deal is not contained in what radio has to offer, but one would expect, with the emergence of this tremendous and widespread communication factor, that there would be changes in the attitude of readers to the Press. Indeed, the Report with which we are concerned adduces some of this evidence in support of its plea. There has been the changeover from the requirement of newspapers to give primary evidence of facts to giving comments and many other things which cannot be provided by radio.
Further, with the emergence of television the visual immediacy provided by newspapers was taken over by this new and extraordinary medium. I remember the day when the First World War broke out. With my father and mother I was on holiday in Heacham. I remember my father procuring a newspaper, on the front page of which I saw a picture of the Kaiser in the uniform of the Death's Head Hussars. That gave me a sense of the visual immediacy of war. To the newspapers this was a residual factor until the emergence of television and the proliferation of television programmes. Therefore, I should have expected that this second function of the newspapers would have tended to diminish somewhat, and I am not surprised to find that in the Report there is the record of a diminution of overall buying of newspapers. In fact, it seems to me that these two great emergent factors in modern life, radio and television, have had a magisterial effect on the newspapers, not necessarily to make them outmoded but to demand a new attitude to them.
I should also have expected, on general principles, that an established, and in many cases an integrated industry or profession, such as the newspapers and the 641 Press have often shown themselves to be, would have reacted in particular ways to these circumstances: that they might well have become more introverted: that instead of seeking to shed more light in the presence of the problems which confronted them, they might have been more sedulously concerned to study their own optic nerve. Reading the Report, I find how amply this particular point seems to be borne out by the almost incredible proliferation of different, and sometimes mutually contra-indicated, problems and factors within the industry itself.
I could have wished that someone else had made reference to the fact of the drunkenness in the industry. Perhaps it does not come so well from me, but let me record the laconic and non-commital comment of the Report that it may well be that there is not so much of it, but that such drunkenness would not be tolerated in any other industry. It is not for me to pass judgments on the industry, but it is for me, and for all of us, surely, to recognise that we are confronted with an industry which has reacted to the changes in somewhat the same way as in many eras the Christian Church has frozen its liturgy and retired into some kind of monasticism; and it may well be that a kind of inky monasticism has been practised by the Press. These are not pronunciamentoes on my part, but they seem to flow as a logical consequence from some attempt to see from a wider background the sort of place that the Press and all those who operate it are finding in the modern community.
There is a second set of conditions which for me are operative and, in fact, imperative. I make no apology for saying that when I look at any of these matters, I seek to approach them from the standpoint of the Socialist ideology which I profess. I have not heard very much of this Socialist ideology to-day; in fact, I have heard many "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" from this side of the House to propositions which I find ideologically very dubious. I believe that, without too pronounced a genuflexion towards Highgate Cemetary, it is possible to evaluate the present condition of the Press in terms of the basic ideas of the Socialism in which I have been reared and which I accept.
642 In the first place, I believe that capitalism produces inevitably its own set of rules and acknowledges no authorities beyond them. I believe it is true to say that capitalism ultimately is concerned with commodities, whether those commodities are personal or otherwise, and that it throws up the particular kind of entrepreneur of which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, is an excellent example. Many have been speaking about the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, this afternoon, and far be it from me to cast any aspersions upon his personal piety, but if he goes to heaven I am sure that it will be by a very circuitous route, unless he can accommodate this sense of personal virility and challenge to what seems to me to be an imperative moral consideration. But to turn everything into good business is ultimately, I think, blasphemous, and to regard the cliché of a free society as a proper entrance upon an understanding of what freedom means is a gross over-simplification and perversion of the word. In fact, the second characteristic of capitalism, as I understand it, is that it does depersonalise the community in which it is practised.
The third characteristic is that it makes money, or the possession of it, of an inordinate power and consequence. We are invited to inspect the laurels on the brow of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. I wish the noble Lord were here, and I hope he will not regard this in any way as an unkind criticism of him; hut I think he would be proud to say that he considers the making of money a legitimate end in itself. I do not consider this is so, because I believe that ultimately, unless a man renders an adequate service, he is not fulfilling a human requirement. Furthermore, the Marxist doctrine, of which I venture to remind your Lordships in this case and as I hope to develop in a moment, is peculiarly apposite. It does contain the proposition that sooner or later monopolistic trends will emerge; the expropriators will be expropriated, and in the end you will find that you have one or two moguls instead of a variety which can produce and justify and make a permanent ideal of freedom. Has this happened to the Press?
When I think, for instance, of the power of advertising—and we have been invited to think of this as dominant—and 643 when I reflect that, looking at the Sunday additions to the newspapers, the Sunday magazines, I find difficulty sometimes in differentiating between which are the leader and which are the advertisements (in fact, sometimes I think the leaders are loss-leaders in a kind of advertisement supermarket) I regard the whole process of advertising as, on the whole, disagreeable in the kind of society in which we live and in any proximate society to which we ought to move.
I object not to the intentions of a Lord Thomson of Fleet to do his best to see that he will not interfere with the editors, but to the whole principle which invests any man or any group of men with a power as large and widespread as that. When I look at the Press (though I am not despondent, but much encouraged by what people who know more about it than I do have said: that the present dolors will be overcome and that measures are already in hand), I ask myself whether, as a practical proposition, I am at all anxious to see a perpetuation of the kind of situation in which we find ourselves, in which some of the daily papers are ailing, and others are in full vigour.
Heiner said that he would be prepared to die for men did he not shrewdly suspect that they were not worth it. I am of the opinion that many of the newspapers which are now ailing are not, in the light of anything that I would regard as an ideal or worthwhile society, necessarily worth preserving. I understand that in the Americas to-day you can attain a kind of condition of immortality by being frozen and then being awakened at some future date. One of the advertising companies which will do this for you. if you are so minded, has as its slogan: "Freeze, wait, reanimate." The idea that if the present situation is allowed to continue, or if we freeze this situation as it now appertains to the problems and opportunities, it will not be long before a new and brighter day will dawn, seems to me to be utterly futile, because I want to see an entirely different kind of Press.
I am not convinced that interference at this moment, or participation by a Government at this moment, would necessarily mean a restriction of freedom. It should be remembered that in France there is widespread help for the Press in 644 matters of telephone charges—the same thing that prevails, apparently, in Canada, whereby reporters can have rebates from the railways, and a great deal of the communications of the Press are free. And in La Figaro, only three days ago, there was a proud and somewhat truculent article claiming that the French Press is probably the freest in the world to-day. I do not believe it is necessarily true that for a Press to be helped in its proper service would involve such participation by a Government as would amount to tyranny or a destruction of freedom. But this is not the point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention.
The point I want to make, after which I will sit down, is this. As I see it, the great hope in the community in which we now live is the Socialist hope that we may bring more and more of those activities which have been regarded as economic, and purely economic, into the field in which we regard them as acts of service. It is perfectly true that we do not expect hospitals to pay for themselves: they provide a service required by the community if it is to be healthy. We do not expect students to pay for the whole burden of their education: that would be impossible. We are beginning to realise that we ought to regard housing not as an economic proposition but as a service.
I believe that in any worthwhile community a truly free Press is a service demanded by the community, to be offered by the community, and to be safeguarded by the community. I cannot see why a public corporation that provided one of the channels of a free Press would any more destroy the freedom of the Press than the emergence of commercial television has destroyed the validity of the public Corporation of the B.B.C. As for the idea that consumers' choice is paramount, does the student determine the curriculum, or the patient prescribe the medicine? Without being paternalistic, I regard the whole level of what is called the Press to-day as squalid, though I would agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that there are ample signs of improvement. But I am a Socialist, and into this particular debate I would throw this particular contribution. I know that it will be unacceptable to 645 some; and I know that it is unintelligible to some. I sometimes wonder whether it has been considered by all who belong to the same Party as I belong.
Believing, as I do, that this particular inquiry into the work of the Press must range far wider than domestic attempts to stave off imminent disasters, I would yet introduce into this debate the prime consideration that only within a society which has reduced the power of advertising to a minimum, has prevented the emergence of the dominant individual, has encouraged the community to think for itself and to be its own communicator and the master of its own communications—only in these things is the ultimate salvation of the Press; and whatever immediately and transitionally is undertaken, only with this in view, and with this objective finally consumated, will the Press be fully free.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, my only connection with the Press was to serve on the British Gazette in 1926, but I am emboldened by what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said, that it is proper in a debate of this sort that the voice of the mere consumer should of course be heard. As such, I am interested in Fleet Street; and, of course, the public is interested in Fleet Street. As the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, said, it is in the public interest that Fleet Street should be healthy, and to this end this debate is most valuable. I propose to skim my notes, as of course at this late stage in the debate many of the points one has prepared have already been made. But I have one or two which have not been touched on, unless it be to some measure in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, which has just held us all spellbound.
As I say, I feel that it is very proper that a reader should be interested in this debate. I am one of those in favour of newspapers, as most of us are who have been blessed by having the newspapers we get in this country and newspapers elsewhere in the world that have the British tradition. They have their problems, serious: problems, and we have heard about them to-day. Like other noble Lords, I was most impressed with Lord Drogheda's speech, and to hear what is being done, and there is no need to repeat 646 to noble Lords what others have said. I wish to try to pick up some of the points that have not been made.
If the Press has its problems on the commercial side, I believe it also has them on the spiritual side, the moral and the ethical side. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I think it is a pity that this delicate instrument, the Press, this instrument which should be a vehicle far public opinion, and a purifying instrument in our way of life, should be regarded as just a money-making concern, and that we should confine our interest only to commercial success in connection with it. I do not know how many noble Lords heard the broadcast of the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, on Saturday morning. I am going to save your Lordships more time by hoping that when she speaks later, if she does, she will say certain things. The noble Lady shakes her head. If she is not going to speak, I would say that she made these points most cogently: that this matter of the Press must be regarded as one closely allied and linked with the moral and spiritual life of the people, whether it be of this nation or any other nation; and in that respect we are entitled to demand that our Press is of a high standard.
There are newspapers, of course, which have no right to be called "news"-papers. And I think, although all of them appear to have allowed themselves to be tricked and bludgeoned by their own labour so that their costs have gone right over the top, we owe a debt to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, over his fight regarding the Watford evening papers, for really showing this situation up and putting a foot in the door, securing release from the manacles which have been placed upon the industry by this extraordinary development in what was once so reputable a movement, the trade union movement. It has meant that mechanics and technicians—what they call their production departments—are in many cases receiving more than the brains, and the brains, after all, are the real producers. This must, of course, limit the ability of the newspapers to provide a proper service of news. It would seem that the Daily Express may be the only popular paper with a properly balanced staff, and this makes it consequently all the more disappointing and 647 surprising when it publishes material about your Lordships' House which is so far from the truth.
One point I particularly wish to make, which has not been made so far, refers to the question of balanced reporting, and my mind was activated by a leader which began with the words:To-day the political forum has moved from Parliament to the Press and to the radio.This, to my mind, is upsetting and something we must face up to, because in a measure this is correct. It is not a problem of the Press to discuss in a debate of this nature, but it is something which has a bearing on what I am going to mention next; namely, the reporting in the papers of the proceedings in Parliament.
It so happens that only last night we had a most interesting debate. It was not well attended, my Lords, but I feel it is apposite that I should quote from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who wound up. It was a debate on Lord Crook's Motion in regard to industrial accidents. Lord Hughes said:My Lords, my greatest regret in relation to this debate is that it should be taking Mace at an hour of the night when, by past experience, your Lordships can expect to get very little reported in the Press…But so much has been said in this debate which is very much worth hearing, which is very much worth being brought to the notice of both employers and employees, that I wish the Press could find some way of using some of this material. Perhaps it might be the subject of articles which could go into weekly newspapers; or it might appear in magazine sections from time to time…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24/1/67, col. 531.]Well, my Lords, what happened? The Daily Telegraph gave the debate a good notice. Not another paper has mentioned it. The Times, in its report, after referring to earlier debate (incidentally, this debate began at a quarter to seven) simply said that the House rose at 8.8 p.m.
It seems to me, my Lords, that this is something which we can fairly talk about in this debate. If, indeed, the political forum is moving away from Parliament, then, although I strongly oppose any suggestion that there should be control of the Press, or a subsidy to the Press, or anything else of that nature, I believe that we should say quite 648 definitely that there is something wrong here. Only if there is a row, only if there is some trouble, apart from major crises, do the ordinary media seem to refer to the proceedings. I do not refer only to this House. Neither House of Parliament is sufficiently reported. I would cap what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said last night, and what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has said in this debate: that if we are going to have these enormous Sunday papers, surely we could have more sensible news in them; and I believe it would be right if the weeklies were to make it a practice to lift actual material from the Hansards.
It has been said that the Press is going on all right because it gives the people what they want—I am talking now of the tabloid Press. I do not believe it is so. From what has been said in the debate this evening it is clear that the whole trend is for more serious reading to go into the tabloid papers. I must agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said: that the Press is better than it was five years ago, but I think it is fair to add that, better though it may be, we cannot necessarily say that it could not be better still.
My Lords, there is one other matter, arising from what has been said in this debate, to which I wish to refer: it is possibly trivial, but it links up with the question of subsidy. I refer to the postage on newspapers. I live in a country district, and the postage on my papers is more than the price of the paper. It is not ridiculous, because I do not think it is funny at all. I like my papers, but I just cannot afford to buy them. If I had all the papers which the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has, and had to pay postage on them all, it would come to the most enormous sum in a year. I do urge upon the Government some measure of thought that registered newspapers should be posted at very much lower charges.
On Monday, I forwarded a school magazine from my daughter's school to her in Australia, and the postage from St. Andrews to Australia is the same as from St. Andrews to Lanarkshire. There is something wrong here. I consider that newspapers should be given preferential treatment in regard to postage, believing as I do, with the noble Lord. Lord Soper, 649 that, with the change brought about by the prevalence and availability of the radio and television, ready access to the written word is almost more essential to-day than it was in the past, in terms of moral support and general spiritual information—more essential than the mere news which one can get by turning a knob any morning or any evening.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, newspapers do, in fact, have a preferential lower rate. What I think the noble Lord is saying is that it is not sufficiently low. It is certainly lower than the ordinary letter rate, and it is a special low rate; but it may well be not low enough.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly correct. But I would even go so far as to say that the postage on registered newspapers is now so high, although they receive preferential rates, that we have reached the point of diminishing returns. Certainly in my case the point has been reached, because I have cancelled two papers which I used to take, simply because I cannot face paying 5d. for a paper and 6d. for postage—11d. a day—when I can get another paper delivered at the village library for 4d. My Lords, I have very little more to add, except to return to a note that I see I have concerning something said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, regarding the criticism of labour, the working people, in regard to this industry. I myself think, having had a good deal to do with labour in industry in days gone by, that it is fair to say that the restrictive practices in this industry were out of all measure. And there has been another complication, to which my mind went when heard my noble leader, Lord Carrington, refer to the packing department. I believe I am correct in saying (perhaps somebody who is intimate with the industry can deny it) that the best newspaper packing machine in the world is the subject of a British patent. It is manufactured in this country, and Britain is about the only country in which it is riot available. It only remains for me to thank the noble Earl. Lord Arran, for promoting this debate, which has been so interesting and is not yet over.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD MOYNIHAN
My Lords, when I put my name down to speak in this debate I had only one fear that I would be down to speak about eighteenth on the list and that I would follow seventeen noble Lords who not only knew a great deal more about this subject than I did, but who would also be much better speakers. I am afraid, my Lords, my worst fears have been realised. Moreover, being in the theatrical profession, I know only too well the weakness of putting on a had act after a good one, and I shall, therefore, be as brief as possible.
I came here to-day with a beautifully prepared speech, but as I have been sitting here enraptured, listening to the debate, I have found myself crossing out more and more points in order to avoid repetition. I think there has been enough repetition in the debate this afternoon for me to avoid any more. I might have been tempted to scratch my name altogether from this debate, had I not felt the need for someone on these Benches to repeat where the Liberal Party stands on this issue. It is true that the death of the last Liberal newspaper did not in any way harm the Liberal Party, and indeed since the time of that death our representation in another place has doubled. This in no way detracts from the fact that in our opinion it is a great shame that 2½million voters in this country are not represented by any newspaper at all.
My father, who insisted that every national daily should be laid out on the piano every morning as we came down for breakfast—and I remember well in those days there were two newspapers of a distinct Liberal leaning—had only one rule which he imposed on his children: nobody was allowed to read either the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Workerunless they read them both, as in his opinion both these papers held wildly extremist views. There is, and I think it right that there should be, an enormous range of political viewpoints in this country, not perhaps as wide as in France where it has been said that there is a different political party for every adult Frenchman, but nevertheless wide enough. We believe that as near as possible every political viewpoint should be represented in the Press because, as John Stewart Mill said, there can be no truth without discussion.
651 We should like to see eight national dailies with eight different viewpoints, but we would rather see eight different nationals with four owners than four nationals with four owners, provided the editorial freedom is guaranteed. In fact, we would rather see The Times owned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, than not have The Times at all, although we would prefer, naturally, to see an independent Times. It seems that this country is too often happy to accept the lesser of two evils without enough fight for something that might be good.
After scratching out most of my speech I have, in fact, only one real contribution to make. It has always seemed to me to be a great pity that the strength of individual columnists in the popular Press in this country is so restricted. I have lived in many countries, including America and Australia, where the columnists have far more freedom, and there are many papers in both those countries which carry regularly columnists with totally different political viewpoints from the viewpoint of the paper. Imagine the glee with which your Lordships, regardless of your own political viewpoints, would read a column in the Daily Express advocating the entry of this country into the Common Market. This strength and freedom of columnists could go a long way towards what we need.
I cannot agree with one noble Lord who made a suggestion concerning the prices of newspapers. It is surely our wish to improve the standard of reading and education in this country, and more people ought to be encouraged to read well-written, politically-unbiased papers. How is this to be possible if the prices of those papers are increased? These are the papers which should he subsidised.
While listening to one noble Lord speaking, I was reminded of what I can only describe as a nightmare which I went through about 18 months ago, when I spent three weeks in Ghana. At that time—and I emphasise that it was 18 months ago—there were three daily national newspapers in Ghana, and every morning when I received those newspapers I was absolutely horrified at the content. On one day I counted the references to the ex-President of Ghana in the three newspapers, and either his name or Osagyefo the Redeemer, by which he was 652 generally known, was mentioned no fewer than 236 times in the three newspapers. I do not think that this was exceptional.
I know that we shall not reach that stage, but any step in that direction should surely be resisted, because had it been resisted when it started in Ghana it could never have reached the stage that it has. We must fight every inch of the way to see that nothing even remotely like that can ever happen in this country. We on these Benches will always support any measure to maintain the free expression of as many different opinions as possible in our national Press—even the Morning Star and even—yes, "even"—the Daily Telegraph.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, as always the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has timed his Motion to come before this House at a particularly appropriate phase in our Parliamentary life. Coming so soon after the Report of the E.I.U., this debate has been well-timed, and we have had contributions from various shades of political thought. We have had contributions from the proprietors, and from many other sides of the newspaper world.
I am one of those who has no connection with a newspaper, other than having written one or two letters to them, some of which have been published, and some not. I have no particular professional qualifications to speak to this Motion. I am, however, an associate director of a very small firm of business consultants, and one service we like to give to those who use our firm is not only to suggest to them what is wrong with the various facets of their organisation, but to suggest what can be done to put them right. The admirable document which forms the basis for this debate (at least the parts which I have read, which admittedly have been in newspaper form, because I have not seen the whole document) does not seem to have got down to this matter.
The whole future of the newspaper industry must, like everything else, depend very largely on the consumer, on the reader and the average newspaper reader is not, in my submission, particularly interested in who owns the newspaper and who is its editor. They are interested, however, in the quality of the newspaper, 653 in the readability of its articles and in the general content.
A good deal has been said about the Sunday Times and The Times, and I believe that, under the ownership of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, there have been distinct improvements. Whether or not these improvements would have come about had this takeover not occurred I do not know, but certainly the Scotsman which, having a good deal of Scottish blood in me, is a paper I read regularly, has certainly benefited tremendously from the takeover. I believe that the Scotsman is an example of a paper which now contains articles and editorials which cover a multitude of subjects, and yet are not sheafed in volumes of newspaper.
In his admirable speech, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, referred to the fact that it would not matter if there were fewer daily papers, because in New York there is only one. This paper is about 200 pages in length, and even the Sunday Times, with its Business Supplement and all the other supplements, including the colour supplement, does not come up to that figure. Admittedly, it is now a somewhat difficult task to read that paper in a single day. Like other noble Lords, I read a good many newspapers of all shades of opinion, ranging from the Sunday Citizen to the Sunday Times, and from the Daily Mirror to the Daily Telegraph and the Glasgow Herald.
Some noble Lords may have seen on television last Sunday an old film called This Man Reuter. Reuter, of course, was one of the first people in the newspaper world, so far as reporting was concerned. He used carrier pigeons, and for a long time he had the monopoly. To-day, of course, we have reached far more advanced technical stages in this field, but I believe that the newspaper world owes a great deal to Reuter and his methods, and to the enormous struggles which he had against those who wanted "hot" news which obviously could not be provided at that time. I think it is in that kind of context that we should look at this debate, because the progress of the newspaper industry has been quite phenomenal. Of course there are problems, including the problems of restrictive practices which have been mentioned but which I certainly do not intend to dwell on at this hour of the evening.
654 I believe that the local newspaper has a very vital part to play. People, particularly in the country areas, like to read local news, and I submit that there is a great shortage of local newspapers. And for obvious reasons daily newspapers cannot always print local news. People can see the major issues, such as Vietnam, nationalisation of steel, and other great national issues, dealt with on television, on the radio, and they do not always look to the newspapers to read it. But they do like to see what is happening in Cirencester or Chipping Sodbury and there is a very great need for local newspapers in the outlying rural districts. I would say: Good luck to anybody who can set up those newspapers, because quite often there may be only one county newspaper which has to cater for an enormous area; or there may be a shortage of reporters, so that many important local village happenings do not get proper coverage. These local papers are, I believe, a very vital part of the newspaper industry.
The Press faces one other big difficulty, I believe. There are too many organisations which bar the Press from their meetings. There are, of course, times when this is necessary, but I do not think that, as a democracy, we can have it both ways. We ought not to say that the Press do not care about what happens here, there and everywhere, or that they do not pay attention to certain issues, such as safety issues or the great social issues of our time, if, in fact, they are to be barred from controversial meetings—unless, as I have said, the meetings are of a very secret or specialised nature; and I recognise that there are times when meetings must be held in closed session. But, otherwise, if the Press are to be barred, their difficulties are going to be increased. We must clearly face the fact that the newspaper industry has many problems at the present time, but these problems cannot be solved by Government alone. They can be solved only by sensible consultation between union and management, and with the help of the general public. I believe that, despite its shortcomings, the Press we have in this country can stand up to any other in the world.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should like, in a brief speech, to say a 655 few words about the Press and its relationship to advertising. Like many noble Lords who have preceded me, I must declare an interest. I worked for many years in the International Publishing Corporation, I am a member of the Institute of Journalists, now amalgamated with the N.U.J., and I am also connected with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.
As is well known and as has already been alluded to in this debate, the economics of newspapers, which are very complicated, enable newspapers to be sold at far below their true economic price. We have the finest Press in the world and indeed the finest value for money. It would be a tragedy if there were more closures. I would submit that advertising is an essential support. It is also the most satisfactory support, if one considers the alternatives, which I shall deal with in a few moments. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, said so rightly, this is a mutual benefit.
I am not suggesting for one moment that advertising should merely exist to help the Press. The Press is also vital to advertising. It is one of the most important media; in fact, in spite of the advent of television it still remains the most important medium of all. And, furthermore, the editorial and the advertising sides of a newspaper are complementary to each other. Both contribute information in different ways. Precise information is given in advertisements about products: the description of them, the maker, the price and where and how to buy them, which are often the subject of general editorial comment. There is also the service given by the small classified advertisements, which, of course, is essential to people who are looking for specific things to buy, such as houses, or who are seeking jobs.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said so rightly, the reduction in advertising expenditure last year really precipitated the crisis. This reduction was brought about through the squeeze, S.E.T., rising costs and so on. It has caused difficulties and threat to at least three and probably four daily newspapers, and also, as has been said so rightly, to one of the heavy Sunday newspapers as well. I think we must be very careful 656 —and this applies really to any Government in modern times—of these chain reactions, where one takes necessary action in one part of the economy which has undesirable effects on the other. One has seen similar happenings in the field of housing. The possible effects of further newspaper closures are that the public would be deprived of the publications of their choice, news coverage and comment would be still further restricted, and the economic effect would be incalculable, since advertising outlets would be further reduced.
There are in all Parties certain critics of advertising. There are people who think that it is an expensive luxury that we can do without, like the sugar on the cake; that it does not contribute anything that is particularly important; that it has harmful effects; that it panders to materialism. If it is the wish of the great majority of consumers to attain a standard of living that, for the first time in our history, is within their reach, then I think this materialism is absolutely justified. Advertising is a part of marketing. It is also an essential method of communication—the cheapest and most effective way. I know of no other alternatives. One could possibly send town criers round; one could have wall newspapers, as in the Far East; one could increase the number of door-to-door salesmen; but none of these would really be effective or even so desirable as the present medium.
There have been several proposals for helping the Press, but all are highly unsatisfactory and in themselves bring greater evils than they attempt to cure. The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, was perfectly right when he said that there was no possible statutory method that would work. I think it is absolutely essential that the Press should remain independent of the State, and I can see no Government subsidy which would allow that. This suggestion has rightly been rejected by most of the newspaper proprietors, and I must, with respect, disagree most strongly with my noble friend Lord Goodman.
There is also the highly defeatist proposal that circulation of the most popular newspapers should be restricted in order to give the less popular ones a chance. This would put a penalty on success and would deprive many readers of the publications of their choice. It worked during 657 the war, during the time of newspaper rationing; but those were special conditions which are not applicable to peace time. One of the craziest ideas of all is that there should be a forcible transfer of advertisements from the stronger newspapers to help the weaker. I do not see how this would work. Who is going to decide which advertisement is to be transferred, say. from the Daily Express or the Daily Mirror to the Little Puddleton Gazette? Who is to decide which of the unfortunate advertising managers is to be called up and told that this is to happen? Is one going to charge him the same amount in the smaller medium which it is felt desirable that his money should help to keep in being, as in the larger? Advocates of proposals of this kind argue that that would be justified, as this would bring the benefit of a wider choice of newspapers. What people of this persuasion usually mean when they talk of "a wider choice of newspapers" is that they would like to see several more newspapers provided they were of the kind that they themselves liked to read.
I think it is vital that newspapers should remain economically independent. A free Press is essential for democracy. I think it would be correct to say that there is hardly any injustice of any kind in our history in modern times that has not been put right as the result of initial ventilation in the Press. Also, to a leading trading and manufacturing nation such as ours, which must market and advertise, the Press is absolutely essential as the leading advertising medium.
§ 8.26 p.m.
My Lords, we have heard a great deal about newspapers as an industry but there have been few voices raised to-day about journalism as a profession. I want to follow my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams in drawing attention to the fact that there are such people as journalists as well as Pressmen. Nowadays, I may be a professor and a Member of your Lordships' House, but I can still take a shorthand note of your proceedings, and I can still produce a current card, as a continuous member of the National Union of Journalists for over forty years—well, not quite continuous. In fact, I used to sit up in the Gallery. I was once lapsed for not paying my dues, but that was because I was in the Sahara Desert 658 and the union collector did not have a camel.
I want, therefore, to remind your Lordships of those who produce the commodity which the industry manufactures: the editorial content which the advertisements are wrapped around and for which the reader pays or, disastrously, does not pay. We hear a lot about the High Command of the newspaper industry; we hear a lot about the armoured divisions of the mechanical departments, and about the logistics of the packers and distributors, but we might spare a thought for the P.B.I.—"the poor bloody infantry"—who bear the heat of battle, the journalists themselves.
One feels sometimes that the profession of journalism has been crushed in the machinery of the industry. That is not surprising, because the editorial costs are such a small fraction of the cost of producing and distributing a newspaper. On a mass circulation paper a minor variation in the price of newsprint or printers' ink, or freight charges or mechanicals' wages, can be more than the whole cost of the editorial department. But that is where the economies start—they start always in the editorial department. Foreign bureaux are closed down. When you observe a newspaper closing down a foreign bureau, then you know it is "on the skid". News editors are told to cut down on their local "stringers", the eyes and the ears and the finger tips of news collection. Reporters are told to use the telephone instead of spending money on taxis or on train fares. And there are editorial staff cuts.
In every newspaper crisis in which I have been—and there have been plenty—the first thing that comes under scrutiny is the reporters' expenses. The "swindle-sheet" is the Fleet Street joke, and in fact it can bear some scrutiny. But the reporter is told to itemise everything, including his bus fares, although the news editor, whose job it is to get the news into the paper, does not have time really to look at the items which the reporter puts on his expense sheet. I remember one colleague who put this to test by putting down "To taxi up the office stairs", and got away with it. There was another who put down, "To hire of boat to the Isle of Dogs". My own contribution to the lore of the expense sheet was during an economy curb on the 659 Daily Herald, when I itemised, "To cucumber for the kinkajous, 2d." The managing editor sent for me and solemnly, or mock solemnly, asked me to justify the item. I pointed out to him that the occasion was the first-night opening of the Zoo, and that kinkajous come out at night—if you give them cucumber. But editorial economies are no joke.
No doubt the business efficiency experts would find a lot of apparent redundancy in the editorial departments, but—and here I follow my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams—Heaven help the newspaper which does not have staff on standby against the news emergency! I noticed the other day that the Sunday Times had sent 25 reporters and 11 photographers to do a one-day blitz on Cambridge as a magazine feature. It was a gimmick. I do not know whether it was worth while—I do not think it was particularly so—but anyway I approved the principle. But it made me think ruefully of the times when I could have used just a fraction of that cost.
I think of the time when I was stranded on an island in the Arctic and was threatened by the break-up, the thaw, which would have left me trapped there for five weeks. I needed 300 dollars for a bush-pilot to come and rescue me. I signalled the News Chronicle, then in one of its recurrent financial crises: "Operation Eliza now in progress. Either Eliza Comes to Stay or Uncle Tom's Eliza"—recalling Eliza's escape with her baby across the ice. The Foreign Editor of the News Chronicle, signalled back, "O.K., hut remember the News Chronicle not responsible for Eliza's bundle". What the working journalist resents is the feast and famine, the hunger and the burst, the expensive stunts and the false economies, the cheque-book journalism which will pay £30.000 for the "ghosted" story of some notoriety, and then grudge the expense of covering some worthwhile event.
When I was a boy, the editor of the local paper who first injected printers' ink into my veins did not write his editorials; he hand-set them in type directly. I hate to think what the unions would say about that to-day; there would probably be a national strike. Anyway, it is a very far cry from that to my latter-day Fleet Street when, as Science Editor of the News Chronicle, I refused 660 to attend the daily editorial conferences because the advertising and circulation managers were present and would tell me how to write my science articles, or, rather, how not to write them. Science was highbrow. I recall how, when I had written an article on DNA, which had been rightly front-paged, the circulation representative at the editorial conference (which was really an editorial inquest) said that it had not meant much to him and he did not think it mattered much to the readers; and he added, quite seriously, that that was perhaps why we had dropped two quires in Streatham that morning. In the newspaper industry you do not count people as newspaper readers—you regard them as representing so many quires.
Your Lordships will know that DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the secret of life—at least, that is what we called it on the front page, as a concession, I thought, to Streatham. This was the first account of how the Cambridge scientists, later given the Nobel Prize, had discovered the structure of the molecule and in that structure the information-code which determines heredity. That I think rated a front-page story; I think it rated the discretion which the editorial department gave to it, and I feel that information of that kind, no matter how unappreciated it may be by the circulation manager, should get through to the public.
I wear the wound stripes of Fleet Street like chevrons on my sleeve. If it were not for the disasters which have continually occurred since I moved into academic life, I should count myself the Jonah of Fleet Street. When I joined the Daily News in 1926, it had already absorbed the Morning Leader. A year later it took over the Westminster Gazette. I went later to the Daily Chronicle. Within a year it had collapsed and had been swallowed up by the Daily News. I went to the Daily Herald, which its distinguished editor, my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams, knows, to his suffering misery, went through many vicissitudes in the circulation rat-race of the 'thirties, and which now has its place in the Sun.
After the war, I joined the News Chronicle under Sir Gerald Barry. Later the News Chronicle took over the Daily Dispatch, trying to buy the circulation it 661 was losing elsewhere Then it, too, was murdered. I had already left the staff when that crime against journalism, that murder of the News Chronicle, was committed. I was in the Congo for the United Nations, and I heard the news on the radio in the middle of the swamp forest of Central Africa. The World Health Organisation man with whom I was travelling says that for two days I suffered from surgical shock.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? What does he think was the cause of the demise of the News Chronicle?
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
The death of the News Chronicle I shall mention in a moment, if the noble Earl will allow me to indicate what happens in these cases. I was going to add that a journalist should never get emotionally involved with his paper, as I was with the Daily Herald and, with deep affection, with the News Chronicle. In the case of the Daily Herald it was political trauma. In the struggle between the managerial direction of Odhams and the T.U.C., the paper, by compromising, was compromised, and between the upper and nether millstone was the unfortunate editor, my noble friend, Lord Francis-Williams. A journalist's loyalty is to his editor, not to the management, although his bread and butter is involved with the management. There is "He", the editor, and "They", the brooding threat on the executive floor. I have served under many great editors; Lord Francis-Williams was one and Sir Gerald Barry was another, but I would say that the better the editor, the rougher his passage with the management. My noble friend. Lord Francis-Williams may recall that at one time when he was under enormous pressure and constraints it was the N.U.J. chapel at the Daily Herald, abandoning all pretence of "wages and conditions", which made policy representations to the board, pleading for the paper he wanted and the paper we wanted to work for.
During the desperate days of the News Chronicle—I will come in a moment to Lord Arran's question—every by-line writer, except two, signed a manifesto to the board. We were those whose names were identified with the paper, whose reputations were in- 662 volved. We were not threatening to resign. We were not even telling them how to produce their paper. We were telling them in constructive terms, as responsible working journalists of great experience, the sort of paper we wanted to work for. We were tired of the vagaries of a management which could not make up its mind between being the Daily Mirror and the Guardian. When they panicked over advertising and circulation, we jazzed up and got "with it", as they say to-day. When the Cadbury conscience woke up again, we were responsible and demure.
I do not object to the cosmetic treatment of newspapers—they ought to be attractive—but what they present attractively should be responsible and informative. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, will agree with me—or, I do not know, perhaps he will not—that if the News Chronicle board had listened to its professional journalists it would be alive today, because no newspaper, not even the Daily Mail which took it over and eventually made Michael Randall of the News Chronicle its editor, now fills the function which was performed by the News Chronicle. There is a great gap in our journalistic spectrum to-day which has not yet been filled. Michael Randall was sacked because he was trying to make the Daily Mail fulfil that function, to justify its heritage from the News Chronicle.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Lord again. Would he not agree with me in principle, leaving aside personalities, that it is no good having an excellent and a noble newspaper—I am talking of a popular newspaper—which does not sell? If that paper is not selling, then the responsibility ultimately lies with the editor of that paper, and in those circumstances you must change him. I have no brief on this matter, but I am putting the principle to the noble Lord.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, the noble Earl will, I hope, excuse my saying that that is an extremely managerial attitude for a columnist to take. An editor in modern circumstances to-day is in fact neither a good nor a bad editor beyond the facilities and the responsibilities which are allowed to him by the managerial side. I saw editor 663 after editor destroyed in Fleet Street by the management. We have a long story in Fleet Street about how the proprietors are the great threat and the great menace. The answer is that there is a "they", an intangible "they", which is not even a manager you can get at, not even a chairman or a managing director. There is a "they" in Fleet Street who are completely inaccessible to any argument or conviction. It is this "they", this mysterious "they", who have corrupted and destroyed one editor after another.
This has been the story of the journalistic deaths of editors, particularly in the case of the Daily Mail, because those who were trying to produce a newspaper had not been given the authority or the facilities to produce a newspaper. I repeat again that in the case of the News Chronicle it was not a question of the inefficiency of the editor or the inefficiency of the journalistic staff. It was a fact that the editor and the staff did not know for what newspaper we were writing, or what we were trying to produce, because the management were treating us then as they would treat hard and soft centres in a chocolate box.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that the management are always wrong and the editors are always right?
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I would always be on the side of the editor in a matter of this kind, because one of the tests you ought eventually to apply in these circumstances is: Who appointed the editor? The editor is not just dreamed up; he is appointed, and he is supposed to be given some sort of authority. The unprotected editor, who is the present editor of all commercially-run newspapers, can neither establish his authority nor bring into existence the kind of paper which one imagines the management has asked him, or appointed him, to bring into being. If you are going to tell an editor continuously, from hour to hour and from day to day—and this actually happened on the News Chronicle—what should be put in the paper, then that editor is no editor; and the answer is, quite simply, that in Fleet Street to-day we have no editors. We have people who are being run at one remove by 664 remote control, even if the controls are nameless or invisible, and we are now in a situation where the profession of journalism has been destroyed by the machine of journalism. In fact, my profession has become an industry.
I am not quarrelling with modernisation. As one who knows something about science and technology, I believe that newspapers as we know them to-day are on the way out. It is manifestly absurd to produce newspapers as we do to-day, to go through the elaborate manufacturing process, to bundle up the papers—as has been pointed out over and over again—wrapping them up and tying them up after a complicated process has produced them, to put them in vans, put them on trains, have them sorted out by wholesalers, delivered to retailers, and pushed through the letterbox by a boy before he goes to school in the morning. It should and will be possible to transmit them directly into the home, in facsimile and in colour reproduction. Anyone who can have a television should be able to have a newspaper machine, probably in conjunction with the future colour television set. As we have heard again and again to-day, people will still want legible confirmation of what they are hearing. They will want to have features and to have the newspaper debate and editorial discussion. The home newspaper will come, and one will still be able to have the newspaper of one's choice by metered methods and by tele-subscription.
This is not my latter-day prophecy. In 1929, when I was on the Daily News, the editor, Mr. Tom Clarke, asked me to do a feature article on the newspaper of the future. I wrote it without the advantage of foresight about the enormous development of present-day television. The telephoto was enough to go on. I described and showed how the facsimile of a complete newspaper could be reproduced in the home. That article never appeared: the federated house chapel objected. They did not have to threaten to strike disapproval was enough. I was young, my predictions were brash, and, anyway, the editorial chapel was a small part of the federated house chapel. It was not worth making trouble. That was 38 years ago, so your Lordships will understand why, although I am a good trade unionist, I have a good 665 deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, and his recent difficulties about web-offset, that tentative approach to the computorised telecommunicated newspaper of the future.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords. This has been a most interesting debate, and one of the reasons why it has been particularly interesting, I think, is that so many of those who have taken part are either proprietors of newspapers or write for newspapers, and are therefore personally concerned with them—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder and the noble Lord, Lord Soper. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, I am afraid that I am only a consumer.
I think that at this stage of the debate I can say three things with which we shall all agree. The first is to express our gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for having put down this Motion. We all know the difficulties of legislative time in another place, and so, as is not uncommon now, we find a subject of great national importance being discussed for the first time in this Chamber. And we are grateful to the noble Earl for giving us that opportunity.
Secondly, I should like to express my own appreciation of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Buckton. He spoke from his own knowledge of the industry. He spoke briefly, modestly and incisively, and we shall certainly look forward to hearing from him again. The third thing I can say on which I am sure we shall all agree is that the less I say the better. This is not only as a matter of general principle, but because this is an occasion on which, after all, the Government are not asking the House for some vote of confidence in some policy decision which they have taken. It is not an occasion on which the Opposition are in any way attacking the Government. Indeed, I think there has been no criticism of the Government at all, except from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who says that the whole trouble with the newspaper industry is due to the present Labour Government. With great respect, I should not have thought that that could be so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
One of the marked features of the situation, I think, is the similarities between what the Royal Commission of which the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, was Chairman reported, and what the Economist Intelligence Unit has reported. The situation seems only to have got worse. If I may read from page 114 of the Report of the Royal Commission of which Lord Shawcross was Chairman, they say:In the national newspaper offices production is gravely inefficient, mainly through the employment of excessive labour. Personnel Administration Ltd. estimated that a saving of thirty-four per cent. could be made in the manpower employed in production and distribution in the London newspaper offices which they investigated on our behalf…The development of new machinery and techniques has not been exploited to the best advantage…The degree of efficiency varies from office to office in the national Press. This is probably a reflection of varying standards of management. Management should give more attention to fostering good industrial relations. …Both sides of the industry share the blame for inefficiency. The employers lack unity and pay insufficient attention to the interest of the industry as a whole, and the employees are too exigent in their demands on an industry in which profits must not be taken for granted.Since then, and before the present Labour Government came to power, further newspapers have closed; and in substance I think that what the Economist Intelligence Unit has reported is only the position which existed four or five years ago, except that to-day it is a good deal worse than at that time.
The first thing on which nearly all speakers have agreed is that the less the Government do the better; and the Government agree. As my noble friend the Leader of the House made plain, while if there were an approach from the industry the Government would naturally carefully consider any proposals made to them, this is a field in which a Government would be unwise to go forward with some scheme of their own to provide financial support for this industry. However well-intentioned, such action might well appear to be inimical to that which we all agree is vital; namely, the freedom of the Press.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran (to whom, as I say, we are so indebted for introducing this subject), obviously feels very strongly about the number of newspapers and publications controlled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. But I 667 would suggest to him that one thing at least is quite plain, and that is that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has no intention of trying to impose whatever his political views may be on the readers of all those papers. It is clear that he is not interested in that: he is in-interested only in making money. The noble Earl may say that it is not so much what he does as what he can, or could, do that matters—and I appreciate that there is much force in that. What is much more important, perhaps, is what his successor may do. But, then, on the one hand, you do not know. His successor might be a very strong Socialist, and to have a Socialist Times, a Socialist Sunday Times, a Socialist Scotsman and 137 other Socialist papers, six Socialist radio stations and one Socialist television advertisement unit has its not unattractive side—to some of us, I mean.
As a matter of fact, I would suggest to the noble Earl that we perhaps tend to exaggerate the effect which newspapers now have on political opinion—first, I suggest, because not all that high a proportion of readers in fact read leading articles at all; and, secondly, because there have been two changes. Going back to the 1949 Royal Commission on the Press, your Lordships may remember that there was an Appendix which consisted of nothing but examples (at that time, recent examples; between 1945 and 1949) of the way in which different newspapers twisted the news in order to serve the ends of their own political views. This was irrespective of political opinion; that is to say, the only Labour paper, the Daily Herald was just as bad about twisting the news, so as to make it appear that the Labour Government had done something good, as all the others were in twisting the news in order to make it appear that the Labour Government had done something bad. That Appendix remains to-day a most interesting one, with example after example, first setting out what the true facts were and then showing how each newspaper in turn reported them. I think that situation is very much less common to-day. I occasionally see an example of that kind of thing, but I am quite sure it is very much less common than it was.
The second difference, I think, is television, simply because it is of the essence 668 of television that you hear two sides. If one goes back to the days of Conservative newspapers, one finds they had a great effect on the public at the time of the first Labour Government. This cannot happen now because, with television, everybody hears two sides. That is the essence of television. One may not hear a member of the Opposition and a member of the Government, but at least one hears a member of the Opposition and some Left-Wing Back-Bench supporter of the Government. For those reasons, I think we all tend to exaggerate the extent to which public opinion is in fact affected industry, but there is really no dispute as by the newspapers which people read.
As I have said, all is not well in the industry, but there is really no dispute as to what the troubles are or as to the Government's attitude. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, himself paid tribute to the courage of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, whose speech first brought the whole question to the light of day. In the course of that speech he said:To read, as we do, and to he told with the authority with which these things are being said, that 1967 could well see the disappearance of a number of our great newspapers—this is a matter of the greatest national concern, and for this reason it must be a matter of Government concern. But everybody here would recognise that in a free and democratic society there would be the most appalling risks in Government intervention.My Lords, we must all hope that the industry will take steps to put their own house in order, and that, in particular, they will co-operate with one another to that end. After all, the Economist Intelligence Unit report has not yet been considered by the Joint Board; and again as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in that same speech:For the moment these problems are being tackled urgently by individual managements and by the board of the industry. Government, not as Government, certainly not as a political organisation, but Government as trustee for the people as a whole, who want to maintain a free choice of newspaper, will be watching this urgent work with anxiety mixed with hope. Anxiety for all the reasons T have mentioned. Hope because I believe this industry is capable of solving its own problem.My Lords, it is on that note that I think we should close this discussion to-night. We hope—and there is some reason to expect—that this industry will at long last put its own house in order.
§ 8.56 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords. I knew when I put this Motion down that I was starting something. I did not quite realise that there would be so much difference of view; for we have heard to-day, I think, few platitudes and many arguments. If I may attempt to sum up, very briefly, it seems that almost all noble Lords would deplore a further reduction in the number of newspapers. It seems that most noble Lords, if not all, are against State assistance to the industry. It seems as though, on the management or the proprietors' side, at least, there is a firm intention to change the things that need to be changed, and that there is an indication that on the union side the same applies. It also seems that there is some disagreement as to the seriousness of the present crisis: some say that it will disappear when the country's economic position improves: some say that it will not. But I think that all agree that something must be done inside the industry, at least.
It seems that, for the most part, noble Lords approve the philosophies and practices of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. Certainly he made a most delightful speech. I am afraid that I myself have not yet been converted to "Thomsonism", and I remain sorry about The Times. Put simply: When and where is the noble Lord going to stop? I am glad that we have had this debate, my Lords. I think it was worth while; and, the matter now having been most thoroughly ventilated, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.