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Mr. Radice: My hon. Friend used to do a television programme for him.

Mr. Mitchell: As my hon. Friend reminds us, I used to do a television programme for Rupert Murdoch but, thanks to one of his many commercial mistakes, my programme was dropped. That shows that even Rupert Murdoch is capable of bad judgment. The Sky television management have gone flabby because they took off the best current affairs programme on the network. I am trying to look at the matter in the light of the arguments, decide on the facts, and do myself a little credit with the Government. A reshuffle is coming and my hopes are strong. I have not yet received any word from Downing street, although I sit at home every night waiting for the phone not to ring. I hope that my speech will encourage the process. I want the Newcastle Brown award for meritorious conduct in this matter.

Mr. Ian McCartney: On the grounds of clarification and job insecurity, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is after my job?

Mr. Mitchell: Certainly not. I could not do it anything like as well as my hon. Friend after all those conversations we had.

We should oppose the amendments for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it is wrong to use a Bill that deals with competition to reduce competition and

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increase prices. What on earth will we achieve by increasing prices? That is a distortion of the Bill's role. If there is a problem about Murdoch's share of the market, let us have the guts to tackle it directly rather than in a back-door, covert way.

Mr. Mullin: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mitchell: No. We can all whinge about Rupert Murdoch. I am slightly embarrassed because I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Like him, I am on the extreme left of the party. I am there because the party has moved so far to the right behind me. My hon. Friend and I are all that is left and I am a Gaitskellite.

Murdoch has been successful: The Sun is a success. He kept it alive and boosted it to a mass circulation newspaper. He kept Today alive far longer than would have been the case under any other management.The Times and The Sunday Times have been built up into successful papers. It is true that there is a threat to The Independent, but that is The Independent's fault, not Rupert Murdoch's. If The Independent has gone off, it is because it is no longer independent, has lost its way and has been a wandering, bad paper. It has pulled itself together and enormously improved, but the fault lies with The Independent, not with the attack on it by predatory pricing.

I did not notice The Independent being particularly squeamish, when it set up The Independent On Sunday, about deliberately smashing The Sunday Correspondent, which it duly did; The Sunday Correspondent sank. We did not get this concern and desire for protection then.

I do not notice The Daily Telegraph avoiding predatory pricing. About a quarter of its circulation is sold on much-reduced subscription rates and it gives away 33,000 copies. I love it, but I much prefer reading it for free and I am happy to be deluged with free copies wherever I go. However, that is another form of unfair, unreasonable competition. Why is the paper whingeing about predatory pricing when it gives copies away on that scale?

8.45 pm

Competition is endemic in the newspaper industry. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) is wrong to say that we are talking about a lust for power. We are talking about someone's pride in their product--in their newspaper. Does my hon. Friend not want his articles to be read by the maximum number of readers? Is that not what journalism is all about--competition? If we suppress competition in terms of pricing, will it not come back in all sorts of other ways?

I grew up in a home that was weighed down with encyclopaedias because predatory-pricing newspapers had been going from door to door, giving encyclopaedias away with a subscription to this and that newspaper. We never read any of them. We never read the papers, but we were festooned with encyclopaedias.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews rose--

Mr. Mitchell: I know that my hon. and learned Friend is going to say that I should have read the newspapers and encyclopaedias, and that I would not be making this speech if I had done so. I am not going to give way.

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In any case, what has predatory pricing done for Rupert Murdoch? He has the same proportion of sales now that he had in 1988. The only newspaper that has gone under in the intervening period is his own paper, Today, so what has predatory pricing done for him? Is it such a powerful threat?

To go on in this fashion about predatory pricing assumes that people are stupid. Price is only a marginal factor in buying newspapers. Most people buy a newspaper because they identify with it. They feel that it expresses their character.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): My hon. Friend has just said that he got The Daily Telegraph for free.

Mr. Mitchell: In my case, I hope to buy more newspapers than that. My point is that getting them for free does not kill newspapers. It widens the circulation of quality newspapers. However, in the main, people buy a newspaper because they feel comfortable with it and it expresses their personality. They have an empathy and bond with it; that is what it is all about. It is not about the price being reduced one day a week. People look for quality.

A symptom is that red-top newspapers are all losing circulation while that of the quality papers is increasing, a helpful and hopeful sign. However, the Daily Express lost circulation when it lost its way. Fortunately, it has pulled itself together recently, but it is the fault of newspapers when they lose circulation. They cannot establish that empathy with their readers any longer because they do not have a personality with which readers can identify.

That point is what we need to emphasise, not predatory pricing, which is a marginal factor in such decisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South says that he wants diversity. So do I, but I do not want it at the expense of closing other newspapers. The enemy is bad newspapers and newspapers without character or identity, not predatory pricing. That is a failure of the newspapers. Therefore, I cannot support the amendments. They are mostly an expression of anger at Rupert Murdoch--an impotent and somewhat pathetic rage against the man--which does not become us.

I say loyally that the amendments are not a critique of our leader, who is on close terms with Rupert Murdoch. I am not going to put myself in the position of criticising our leader in any way, but, more importantly for practical purposes, what is proposed will not work. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham will even vote for his amendment because he will not want to rebel against the Government, so why are we wasting our time with this futility?

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): This is an excellent Bill, which will be even further improved if the Government find it in their heart to accept the amendments. I want to deal with the particular point that the Government have made: they see no case for creating a special clause to deal with circumstances in the newspaper industry.

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It has been put to the House this afternoon that the newspaper industry is a special case, for a number of reasons. The first is that newspapers are, above all else, a means of circulation of information--a free, unfettered and generally competitive circulation of information, which is vital to a healthy civil society. The Government are committed to recasting civil society--we want more people to be volunteers, to be aware of their rights, to be involved in local authorities and so on. We cannot shape a healthy civil society without the freest possible flow of information. A monopoly in newspapers, predatory pricing by newspapers, or an unhealthy dominance by any individual newspaper proprietor fatally hinders the free flow of information. That is the first reason why the newspaper industry is different and why specific measures are needed to deal with undue dominance and monopoly.

The second reason, which has been touched on by my hon. Friends, is the relationship between newspapers and politics. It is nonsense to argue, as some of my hon. Friends have done, that people go into newspapers because they want to make a profit. Beaverbrook, the archetypal proprietor, said it clearest and said it best--as he said so many things--when he said that he owned his newspapers to make propaganda. People become newspaper proprietors not because of profit--there are easier ways to make a return on their money--but for political and social influence and power. It must be unhealthy in politics for there to be undue dominance and monopoly in political and social power and influence.

Because of the importance of freedom of information and the free flow of information, and because of the relationship between newspapers and politics, it is all too easy to make a special case for dealing with monopoly and undue dominance in the newspaper industry. I declare an interest as one of the few remaining members of the parliamentary Labour party who will admit to having picketed Wapping by candlelight at the beginning of the 1980s.

My point is not an ad hominem point about Murdoch--it is that twice in recent times the Murdoch empire has driven a coach and horses through the clear intentions of monopoly legislation. The first time was when Murdoch acquired The Times. Anyone who doubts me needs only to read Harold Evans's book about that acquisition. Harold Evans is one of the legion of ex-Murdoch executives. He makes it perfectly clear in his very carefully documented book--as one might expect from one of the leading journalists of our generation--that the way Murdoch acquired The Times was wrong, was in breach of the legislation, and was based on a phoney presentation of statistics and undue pressure on the politicians of the time. Murdoch drove a coach and horses through the clear intentions of politicians when he acquired The Times.

The second time was Murdoch's acquisition of Sky, on top of his control of the newspaper and magazine market. I served on the Committee that shaped the regulations covering Sky and other outlets. It was clear to me that, for a second time, Murdoch was being allowed to get away with it--through his power, through politicians' fear of him and through the need not to be seen to cross Rupert Murdoch.

Now, at the beginning of this Administration, we have a Competition Bill and an opportunity to deal with the issue of undue dominance and monopoly in the media. Many people outside the House will not understand if we

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do not do something. We do not need to look in the crystal ball; we can read the book. Time after time, in Britain, Australia and America, Murdoch has driven his way through the intentions of the people and the legislators on the issue of monopolies. We have an opportunity, which will not come again, to deal with the issue. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider accepting the amendment, even at this late hour.


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