Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Winnick: It has been said that amendmentsNos. 1 and 8 and new clause 1 do not refer to Mr. Murdoch, but we all know that we are debating the Murdoch clauses, and there is no doubt whom we have in mind.

I do not regard Mr. Murdoch as being responsible for all, or necessarily most, of the ills of the media world. If, for example, we looked at The Independent, we would probably conclude that it had been an excellent newspaper and that, unfortunately, a decline took place. The Independent started as a very good newspaper--it was highly welcome--but, in the past two or three years, it was undoubtedly the author of its own decline. I am pleased that, as a result of a change of editor, there now seems to be a good prospect that The Independent will be the type of newspaper that one wants to see, and will provide honest competition for the other broadsheets. One need only compare The Independent with what it was under some previous editors and my point is made.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1151

8.30 pm

I might be accused of making a wrong point, but I do not believe so, when I say that some of the anti-Murdoch sentiments come from those who dislike the political line that he--or at least his newspapers--is advancing on the single currency and against economic and monetary union. I support amendment No. 1, despite the question that I shall now pose. If the Murdoch newspapers--The Times and The Sun--were very pro economic and monetary union, and were in favour of Britain joining the single currency at the first opportunity, would there be the same amount of criticism? Undoubtedly, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) would not change his opinion--he would be making the speech that he has just made, and doing very well indeed--but I wonder whether some of the critics are motivated by the line on the European Union that Mr. Murdoch or at least his newspapers are advancing.

The other broadsheets, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph which have also been mentioned, are excellent newspapers, well able to look after their own, and one hopes that that continues to be the position, even if I would not tend to support the politics of those newspapers--especially, of course, of The Daily Telegraph.

There are three main reasons why I believe that new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 1 and 8 are necessary. First, the point has been made, and cannot be reiterated too often in the debate, that the pricing of The Times is unfair--that the purpose of such pricing arrangements is to drive competitors out of business. When recently I had a meeting--with one other colleague--with the editor of The Times, the fact that such pricing arrangements would drive competitors, especially The Independent, out of business was hotly denied, as though the thought had never come into the mind of those who control the Murdoch newspapers in this country.

We know that that is nonsense. We know that the sole purpose--perhaps it is unfair to say that, but one of the main purposes--of the pricing of The Times as it is at the moment in comparison to its broadsheet rivals is to drive at least one, perhaps two, of those rivals out of business. We also know--the point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) when he moved amendment No. 1--that if The Times was not so heavily subsidised by all the other Murdoch outlets, it would simply not be possible to have such a pricing arrangement. That is the first reason why I am, and have been for some time, very critical of what is happening. If The Independent were forced out of business, that would undoubtedly be a serious blow to the broadsheet market, to British politics and to British democracy.

The letter that we have received from the executives of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, containing the views of the lawyer, Mr. Fowler, has been mentioned. I agree that the executives have an interest, but Mr. Fowler's views should be noted.

The second reason why I am opposed to the present situation regarding the Murdoch media empire is that far too much media power is undoubtedly concentrated in the ownership of Mr. Murdoch--in Britain, as has been stated, in Australia and in the United States. I do not believe that that is desirable, or that it is healthy in a democracy. The danger is that if other broadsheets went out of business--certainly if The Independent did so--

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1152

that would give the Murdoch press empire even more power than it has. That is why I say that that concentration of media outlets in the hands of Mr. Murdoch, not only in the press, but very much in television, is undesirable. One would hope that the Government would recognise that and act accordingly.

My third reason is somewhat different. In my view, Mr. Murdoch believes that he has any Government in Britain in his pocket and that his power--that word is very appropriate in this context--is such that no one in the main stream of British politics or, to put it more clearly, the two main parties, whether in government or not, is likely to take any position that will endanger his press empire. Although I appreciate what the Liberal Democrats have done in another place and here, I nevertheless have to say that, if they stood a realistic chance of forming the next Government, it is not likely, although I may be wrong, that they would be pushing new clause 1 with as much enthusiasm as they have been, and it is more than likely that they would be adopting the same position as the Conservative Opposition.

Mr. Chidgey: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he realises that he has offered me a bait that I cannot refuse. I was not aware that he had some magical orb in his hand with which he could predict the future electoral success of any political party in this country. Perhaps he would reveal the secret.

Mr. Winnick: I am merely saying that it is interesting to note the attitudes of political parties. The Conservative Opposition, for example, are staying silent. They certainly will not vote for the amendments; that was made clear at a previous stage of the Bill's passage. The reason is pretty obvious: they do not want to give Mr. Murdoch the impression that they will act, or vote, in any way that will cause him offence.

That is the sort of power that Mr. Murdoch has. His feeling is that, with all the media power that he already possesses, he has the Government in his pocket. I do not believe that my Government are in his pocket at all, but I do believe that there is a feeling--I am speaking as frankly as I can on the Floor of the House--that, in order to be re-elected, we should not do anything by way of legislation that will give offence to the person who owns so much of the media in this country.

I think that that feeling is highly undesirable, and that it is not--I hope that it is not--the purpose of British democracy for one person virtually to decide who should be the Government of the day. It is not for one person, be it through The Sun or The Times--but especially the tabloid Sun--to say, in effect, that if the Government displease Mr. Murdoch, he will campaign to get them out of office. At the moment--I am being as frank as I can--both the Government, whom I enthusiastically support, and the main alternative Government give the impression that they do not want to take any action that would offend Mr. Murdoch.

I conclude by saying that in a democracy, there are bound to be--there always have been in this country, I suppose--powerful people in the media world, such as the late Lord Beaverbrook who was mentioned, who hold a good deal of power. I suppose that, by the very nature of capitalism, that is bound to be the case. Mr. Murdoch is somewhat exceptional in that he has more power than

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1153

previous media tycoons. He would like to concentrate even more power in his empire and the time has come for the Government, and certainly for Parliament, to say that enough is enough. The most effective way in which to do that is to accept the amendments and the new clause.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Unusually, I want to support the Government's line and oppose the amendments. I cannot support the amendments because the Government's definition of predatory pricing in the Bill is perfectly adequate to deal with the situation. What has been added to that is an explosion of impotent anger against Rupert Murdoch, and the reasons for that are many and varied. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) is obviously upset because Rupert Murdoch is voicing the views of British people on the euro. Others do not like The Sun on taste grounds and some, particularly on the left, do not like Rupert Murdoch's politics. As we spent more than 20 years attacking the politics of The Sun and have now come to accept so many of them, that is a rather curious ground on which to attack Mr. Murdoch.

Some hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the Liberal Democrats, do not like the fact that Rupert Murdoch is so close to the Government. The Liberal Democrats would rather that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was close to the Government. I do not agree with any of those notions because they do not seem to do anybody any credit. I certainly do not come to praise Rupert Murdoch, but I certainly do not intend to bury him. I admire him as a stirrer and a brilliant newspaper man, many of whose actions have been good for the newspaper industry. I also admire him as a risk-taker and innovator who successfully gave us Sky television. When I say that I admire him, I do so with no implication of vested interests.


Next Section

IndexHome Page