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Mr. Chidgey: I note the hon. Gentleman's feeling that The Independent has a particular line to pursue, but does he agree that an eminent QC's opinion is an independent opinion? There would be no other point in seeking it.

Mr. Radice: Let me cite Mr. Fowler. He said that it is unlikely to be possible to establish a relative dominant position as that concept is defined in Community

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jurisprudence. He is concerned that that will not do the job. Lord Borrie, a person respected by the whole House, shares that view.

I want to strengthen the Bill by adding to it the words of the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of State. There are conflicting views of what the Bill will do, and my amendment would make the position more certain by saying that a

That is a good description of the dominant position of The Times, which is able to use the profits of the Sunday Times, and perhaps other undertakings owned by the Murdoch empire, to persist in a policy that it could not otherwise afford.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I understand what my hon. Friend is getting at, but I do not understand why he did not go along with amendment No. 8, which is more specific to the newspaper industry. It makes the point that, in buying peas or Tetra Paks, one does not need much choice. However, buying ideas, which is what newspapers are about, is another matter.

Mr. Radice: I am sympathetic to amendment No. 8, but one would have to define "substantial", and that would lead to a circular argument, because there is no definition--certainly there is none in the Bill--of that word. Amendment No. 8 would throw us back to European legislation. I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend's idea, and I consider that we are trying to do the same thing, but I think that my way is perhaps better, despite the criticisms offered by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet.

Dr. Ladyman rose--

7.45 pm

Mr. Radice: Does he want to criticise me a third time?

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend seems to minimise the impact of European legislation on the Bill. Clause 60 makes that legislation central to the Bill, so that all European jurisprudence can be used. As my hon. Friend's amendment contains the same wording as European case law, what is its purpose?

Mr. Radice: My purpose is to put the position beyond peradventure. I am interested in listening to the Minister, and to my hon. Friend, and I may well be persuaded by them, but I want to try to tease out a strong definition that can be used in the courts.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): May I helpfully suggest an answer that my hon. Friend might have given? European case law as adumbrated in the Bill

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by clause 60 may change, and that is one reason for enshrining the principle in our own legislation, to set it in stone.

Mr. Radice: I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I sense another helpful intervention.

Mr. Winnick: If Mr. Murdoch had a vote tonight, he would certainly vote against the amendment and new clause 1. The Murdoch empire and the media do not want to see them carried.

Mr. Radice: They might even vote against the Bill.

Mr. Winnick: More so against the amendment.

Mr. Radice: Probably.

I have covered my amendment, which is about predatory pricing and a dominant position in the national newspaper market. It is not about the Murdoch press, or about the fact that The Times is no longer a paper of record. It is not about the fact that The Sun is sometimes disgracefully xenophobic. Nor is it about the fact that News International has perhaps too big a share of the United Kingdom newspaper market. This is not the place in which to express my concern about how an unelected Australian-American media owner interferes, through The Sun, in British politics. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] I am having a good try, but I might be ruled out of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not debating the amendment with his immediate circle of hon. Friends, but addressing the whole House. Let me say to some of his hon. Friends that they must be quiet, as they are being unfair to the rest of the House.

Mr. Radice: Lord Beaverbrook once said, "What I want is power: kiss 'em one day, kick 'em the next." Rudyard Kipling, whose words were later quoted by his cousin Stanley Baldwin, said:

Those words still apply. I shall not ask the Minister for his views on them or on their relevance today.

Mr. Ian McCartney: For the record, the last gentleman that tried to kiss me one day and kick me the next, spent 12 months at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Mr. Radice: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his robust attitude. I ask him either to accept my amendment, or to reassure me that the Bill will enable us to take tough action against predatory pricing wherever it occurs, including in the newspaper industry.

Mr. Chidgey: Most hon. Members know that, during the Bill's passage, we have had several opportunities to debate the issues before us. It stands out from our deliberations in Committee and on Second Reading that Ministers have been accused several times--not by me, I hasten to add--of altering course and changing their position. At times, they have argued that an action should be ruled out in the interests of avoiding putting undue burdens on business. At other times, they have said that action is unnecessary.

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The one thing in which the Government have been constant throughout our proceedings is opposing any additional safeguards on predatory behaviour in the national newspaper business. The Government's position is surprising, because, when Labour was in opposition, it was boisterous and vigorous in promising action. It is surprising that, in office, it appears less interested in that promise; some might say that it has betrayed it. The Government seem determined that no one should have the opportunity to help them with it. That is the nub of this debate.

I want to discuss some of the issues raised in Committee, and some of the objections that Ministers made to amendments in Committee, particularly in respect of new clause 1 and amendment No. 8, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and which I have signed, which would take us some way forward.

There is a need for a clause specific to the newspaper press. I strongly believe that competition law should contain specific, and stricter, provisions on the press. Ministers have argued that it is wrong in principle to have different prohibitions in different sectors, but perhaps they forget that schedules 2 to 4 are devoted to excluding certain sectors from the Bill altogether. There is an inconsistency there.

With the press, diversity of provision, and hence of expression of comment, are necessities in their own right. That need goes beyond the need for competition in the supply of goods and services. Competition is a means to an economic end, but a diverse press is an end in itself. Where the diversity of the press is concerned, competition law must go further than it does for ordinary goods and services.

That need has always been recognised in mergers policy. I think that sections 57 and 62 of the Fair Trading Act 1973 are devoted entirely to establishing stricter criteria to apply to newspaper mergers alone. The Government should recognise that the same need exists in other areas of competition law--notably the control of anti-competitive conduct, which is the subject of the Bill. That is the gap that new clause 1 and amendment No. 8 seek to fill.

Is the chapter II prohibition sufficient in the case of predatory behaviour in the newspaper business? Ministers have argued that it is enough to rely on the Bill as it stands. They point to clause 18, which prohibits the abuse of a dominant position, to clause 60, which imports European jurisprudence into the interpretation of that prohibition, and to European case law on predatory pricing.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) that those claims have been exploded by the recent opinion of leading counsel, in particular that of Mr. Richard Fowler, QC. He has shown that European jurisprudence sets a very high threshold before dominance can be established. That is unsustainable when the diversity of the press is at issue. Such diversity could easily be threatened by anti-competitive conduct long before a newspaper reached the point of dominance set out in the jurisprudence.

Ministers also argue that clause 18 will make predatory pricing easier to establish than it is under present competition legislation. They point again to European case law, which says that predation should be presumed

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whenever prices are below the average variable cost of production. Mr. Fowler has again made it clear that, for newspapers, with their reliance on advertising revenue, that precedent would not run. Another ministerial reassurance is thus undermined, if not negated.

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