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Lord Inglewood: I was endeavouring to explain to the Committee that we believe it right, when dealing with the media, to take into account the fact that the media are unlike any other industry. As I said, they play such an important part in our lives in respect of providing information and as an important element in the background to our democracy. As I explained, against that background, so far as the business and economic aspects of those industries are concerned, we believe that the general rules, as practised right across the board in respect of competition policy, should apply.

However, as I also said--it is entirely consistent with the Government's position and, I believe, equally consistent with the generality of the policies advocated by the parties on the Benches opposite--we believe that the media cannot simply be left to find their own level in a marketplace which is regulated by competition policy alone because of the implications for everybody in society that I described. That is the answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt.

I have tried to explain the position from which the Government have come, in order to reach the proposals that are contained in the Bill. In giving that exposition, I very much hope that I have clarified the position and, needless to say, equally hope to have convinced all those who expressed dissent or doubt about some aspects of the policy.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I am, like other Members of the Committee, very grateful for the way in which the Minister so fully and carefully explained government policy. It sets out the whole background to the issues that I raised. He gave a detailed account and

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raised a number of matters to which I had not previously given thought. In deciding whether or not to carry the arguments further at a later stage in the Bill, I shall certainly want to study carefully what he said.

The noble Lord mentioned the local situation. I deliberately did not apply myself to that. I think, from what he said, that I totally agree with him about the considerations that affect a regional newspaper owner acquiring a dominant position in a region or television company. Effective action has to be taken to prevent that.

On the national newspaper scene there are wider considerations. I fully take the points made about the problem which arises whenever a percentage is established; namely, that some people are on the right side and some people on the wrong side of it. But the national newspaper scene is, in a sense, one with a small number of very substantial newspaper groupings. It still seems to me rather unfair that, because of the percentage rule, two of them should be absolutely debarred. For that reason I felt that a rigorous public interest test, through the ITC and the Radio Authority in the first place and then through the OFT and MMC, might be the better way to proceed.

I shall think carefully about the Minister's comments. I profoundly agreed with one remark when he almost seemed to say that whatever happened, there would be any amount of special pleading from other interests. My goodness, after some weeks of this Bill, we are all aware of that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 156B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 156C:

Page 88, line 38, leave out ("national").

The noble Lord said: We have now entered the Schedule 2 world of ceilings of 15 per cent., 20 per cent., 25 per cent. and 50 per cent.; of shares of audience time; of advertising and circulation; of the national, regional and local; and of point systems beyond my capacity to calculate. I was tempted first to move an amendment to the effect that any errors of ceilings, shares or points by either side in this debate should tactfully not be referred to by the other side. On that basis I hope that we can proceed.

I do not believe that I have any interest to declare, since I have no outside earnings from the Mirror or anywhere else. But a typical modern journalist--the Committee will know what I mean by that--took the trouble to telephone me and assert that I had tabled these amendments because five years ago I worked for the then proprietor of the Mirror (though he had nothing to do with the present Mirror and I never worked for the Mirror under that or this management). So I mention that because the minds of many journalists are occupied with such conspiracy fantasies.

The amendments in my name follow from the general points made by my noble friend Lord Thomson in Amendment No. 156A. He argued against the percentage ceilings and sought to rely on the public

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interest test. I do not go so far. As I said before, we understand the Minister's concern and the fact that broadcasting is different. I refer him again to my earlier amendments strengthening the public interest obligation. We shall come back to that because the stronger the public interest obligation, the less agitated we need to be about various ceilings. In my amendments I seek to loosen the ceilings. Above all, I am concerned with the discrimination, mentioned by others, against one group; namely, the Mirror group.

By picking on the arbitrary threshold of 20 per cent. and using the single market determinant of national share, the Bills ends up discriminating against the Mirror. In principle, though it is in fact theoretical, it also discriminates against News International. But that is not discrimination that has any practical effect because News International is not banned from entering television. It already has a giant television business. I understand that it probably does not wish to expand into terrestrial because it would soon hit the 15 per cent. ceiling limiting its growth in satellite.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: Is the Mirror in any way banned from entering satellite television?

Lord Donoughue: I said from entering terrestrial television.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: But the noble Lord also said that a combination of the two was unsatisfactory.

Lord Donoughue: We know that the Mirror Group is not banned from entering satellite. It has other constraints on entering satellite, but that is not what I mentioned. We are discussing terrestrial and loosening the cross-media ownership rules in relation to terrestrial and especially ITV Channel 3. I am talking about that. The amendment bans the Mirror Group from entering that.

It is also arbitrary to treat national newspapers as one sector separate from local newspapers. I can see the practical effect because the moment the two are treated differently the Mirror Group, looking at the national share, is above 20 per cent. I do not believe that it is necessary or logical to separate the two. In fact, they compete with one another in the same sector. If they were treated as one newspaper sector as national and regional television, for audience share, is treated as one sector, the Mirror Group would have less than 15 per cent. of the total.

The Bill liberates other newspaper groups--United News and Associated. If the purpose is liberation, why not liberate the Mirror Group? Why should that one group, among newspapers the largest supporter of the Labour Party, be shackled? That is the main thrust of my approach. I do not think it correct that we should support a Bill which discriminates against one group.

I ask the Minister whether the Government are confident that their proposals in relation to the Mirror Group would survive legal challenge? The removal of restrictions on cross-media ownership among newspapers does not apply to the Mirror; in fact both the Mirror and News International continue to be affected. I have said why I think News International and Sky are

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in a different category. I ask the Minister whether he is aware--I suspect he is--that it is senior Queen's Counsel opinion that the restrictions on the Mirror in the Bill constitute interference with the Mirror Group's rights to freedom of expression under Article 10(1) of the European convention of rights. Legally, to justify the Government's discrimination under the convention it would have to be shown that the proposed restriction advances "a pressing social need" in what is called "a proportionate manner"; otherwise, such discrimination is not allowed or justified in a democratic society.

When Article 10 is read together with Article 14 of the convention, such discrimination seems again to be unlawful in that it constitutes what is there described as arbitrary discrimination. Given the arbitrary mechanical mechanism imposed, given the lack of pressing social need, which is the justification required by the convention, and given the severe practical impact on the business health of the Mirror Group, I suspect that the Government will have difficulty in justifying that discrimination under the convention. That is particularly so because under the convention special care is specifically required when assessing the justification of those particular restrictions on Opposition media. I believe that the Government are in even greater difficulties in that regard. I see no justification for such constraints and suggest that there are serious grounds for legal challenge under the convention.

In that context, I suggest that the Government should look seriously at what I propose. I suggest either that they should not proceed with the 20 per cent. provision until they are absolutely confident that they will not be challenged legally or that they adopt my amendment to raise the ceiling to 25 per cent. which would let in the Mirror Group and therefore not activate the legal challenge.

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