HL Deb 08 October 1998 vol 593 cc574-5

3.28 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to receive the Office of Fair Trading report on predatory pricing in the newspaper industry.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury)

My Lords, the Director General of Fair Trading has asked News International to provide detailed information about The Times newspaper to enable him to assess the impact of its trading strategy on its competitors. The director's investigation and its timing are a matter for him. It is the director's responsibility to decide whether there is a case for making a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Has he had time to read the text of an outstanding speech made at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, who called for an amendment to the Competition Bill, which is shortly to return to this House, in order to give specific protection to the newspaper industry and guarantee quality, diversity and choice in the face of predatory pricing and other unfair competition? How is it that experienced parliamentarians such as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, Mr. Mullin and Mr. Radice believe that such amendment is possible but the Minister still resolutely refuses to bring one forward?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, such a plethora of good papers were produced from the fringe meetings at our conference that I have not had time to assimilate them all. I shall hasten to the website to do so. It is clear to those who have studied the Competition Bill, which we shall discuss later, that there are perfectly adequate powers to cope with predatory pricing. No doubt we shall debate the issue when we come to it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, in defence of the Minister, does he agree that it is not always necessary to legislate in order to make something happen? When the issue was last discussed in this House the price of The Times on the Monday was l0p while last Monday it was 30p.

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, I have already made it clear that all the information that is required for real action to take place, if it is required to take place, is in the hands of the Director General of Fair Trading. We should distinguish between what we would like and the legality of cases we are discussing. There are political preferences and there are legal realities; we must attend to the legal realities.