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Lord Haskel: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke of Dorothy Parker's emotions A to B. The amendment of the noble Lord is also based on two emotions--affection for the newspaper industry and distrust of Rupert Murdoch and News International. In my private moments I share these emotions. But there are times when I must put them aside, and this is one of them. We are here to deal with principles and not with individual cases. Individual cases are for lawyers, regulators and the courts. We are here to lay down the rules.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I have to point out to my noble friend that I did not say that. Of course it appears that we are talking about--to use the "M" word-- Mr. Murdoch, because only his organisation happens to be engaged in these practices at the present time. The law we are supposed to be talking about is a general law specific to the newspaper market. It is not specific to any particular proprietor.
There are good practical reasons why laws directed at particular cases, individual newspaper proprietors or their companies, will fail. They will fail because before the ink is dry on the Royal Assent they will have thought of ways round the law. Our job is to deal with the general and not with the specific.
Generally, I am not in favour of special pleading in your Lordships' House because it is often difficult to know where the pleading ends and the lobbying begins. Usually we try to indicate this by declaring an interest. I draw this to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because I think it might be helpful for us to know where he stands in view of some of the articles which have appeared in recent press reports.
Lord McNally: My Lords, would the noble Lord care to expand? I have no interest to declare as far as the newspaper industry is concerned. If I had, I would have done so. If the noble Lord has any further information, perhaps he would share it with the House.
The noble Lord is concerned about price cutting. In the textile industry I experienced price wars far more cut-throat and long-lasting than the price war about which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and my noble friend Lord Borrie are concerned. As a result of that price war many people wear good quality clothes and have nice fabrics in their home. Thankfully, price is not the only factor. That is why the share of the market taken up by the more expensive broadsheet newspapers is steadily increasing.
I shall not support the amendment. That is not because I do not have affection for the newspaper industry nor because I approve of the tactics of News International; it is because it is misplaced special pleading for a particular interest. It specifically deals with behaviour in the newspaper industry. This clouds the clarity which I think it is your Lordships' duty to inject into this Bill. Our task is to see that abuses of market dominance by predatory pricing is clearly tackled throughout the economy and not just in newspapers. Our task is to see that the rules are fair to everyone trading in the European area. The Bill does this and I say leave it alone.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I have no interest to declare, no involvement with the newspaper industry and I have never met "M"--Mr. Murdoch. But I do take an interest in The Times and for this reason I cannot support this amendment.
My family owned the newspaper for over 40 years and, like the Thomsons and Rupert Murdoch, poured money into The Times to keep it alive. The Times has seldom been a profitable concern; indeed, its history is one of journalistic success in the face of financial uncertainty.
When we debated this issue previously we put our view firmly on the record. The other place has considered our advice and rejected it. That is the right of the other place. I, for one, feel bound to accept that that is the right of the other place because it is consistent with everything that I argue about the relationship between the two Houses. But that does not mean that I have to accept that the other House is necessarily right.
My anxiety remains that, to put it kindly, the force of enthusiasm with which the Government's case has been advanced against the amendment, and the mobilisation of every possible opportunity to tell us that the Bill covers all that the amendment seeks to cover, make me uneasy. I hope I will be forgiven, after quite a considerable life time in politics, for saying so. It might be that the amendment is superfluous, but why this degree of pressure to resist it? It indicates to me that the amendment may indeed cover the issue which concerns us more thoroughly than the Government's own proposition.
Let me leave that particular argument on one side for a moment. It has been established in this debate--and I was sorry that my good noble friend seemed to skirt over it in his latest intervention--that we are not dealing with any ordinary product. We are dealing with the lifeblood of democracy; and the lifeblood of democracy is the information, the quality of information and the reliability of the sources of information on which the public rely for the formulation of their attitudes towards the issues that confront the nation. Anyone who cares about democracy must care about a pluralist media and pluralist newspapers.
I have great respect for the Minister. I do not call his personal integrity or conviction on this matter into question. I just suggest that there might have been a degree of overkill which stimulates the Bolshie part of me. The Government are repeatedly telling us about their concern for the quality of democracy, about their determination to regenerate the constitution, about the whole life of democracy and about the reform of institutions and the rest. I would be greatly reassured if the Minister could say just a bit about the strategy of the Government for not just holding the line of our media in its present diminished state but for enhancing our media, for enhancing the cause of pluralism in our media and for enhancing the cause of different sources of information on which the public should be able to rely.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I speak as a member of the Scott Trust which owns the Guardian, the Observer and other newspapers. I say that I speak as a member. In fact, I do not speak for the trust in any way.
There seem to be two primary issues in this debate. The first is whether or not the Bill under consideration should give special regard to, and special protection for, newspapers as a cultural product. The second is whether or not the protections that exist in the Bill as it stands, by incorporating Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome, are sufficient.
I think that enough has been said in the debate so far for me not to need to belabour either of those two points. Plainly, in other legislation--the Fair Trading Act--very special consideration is given, for the best of reasons, with regard to newspapers vis-a-vis mergers. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, gave some other striking examples of special legislative treatment of other areas of economic activity. Secondly, speaking as a lawyer, I really must plead with the Minister that the notion that the issue is beyond doubt in legal terms in relation to Articles 85 and 86 simply is not sustainable. I know my own profession well enough, and I know a little but enough about European law, to be confident that there is a real need in this Bill to make clear beyond peradventure that there are effective safeguards against predatory activities vis-a-vis newspapers. I hope therefore that those points will be carried home tonight.
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