§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)
I should perhaps start by declaring an interest. I speak as one who has spent 26 years working in newspaper offices, 12 of them full-time and 14 of them part-time. I made my first speech in the House, in October, 1946, partly for that reason, on the Press. I welcome this debate, and also the zealous and jealous concern which so many hon. Members showed for the freedom and independence of the Press when I announced the Governments decision on The Times and the Thomson Organisation immediately before Christmas.
I am sure that it is right that Parliament should debate this whole issue, and do so if possible in a non-party spirit, because it is in essence far more a matter for Parliament than for any Government to decide. What we all want to preserve is the greatest possible freedom, independence and variety in our national and local newspapers. Few things seem to me more abhorrent than the idea of Government control of either the presentation of news or the free expression of opinion in the Press.
We have had quite enough examples in the last 40 years in some other countries of where that leads to make us all reject it out of hand. That is why I said, in reply to supplementary questions on 21st December, and still say, that this is the last industry in which any government in this country would wish to intervene if they could possibly help it.
The trouble is, that in so far as Press variety and independence are threatened in this country, they are threatened not by any Government, but by the economic peculiarities of the British newspaper industry, by the tendency towards concentration in fewer and fewer hands, and by the fall in the number of newspapers. Parliament is confronted here with the ancient but obstinate problem: how does one compel people to be free, even when sometimes they cannot afford it? This problem is sometimes almost as intractable as the problem in the industrial 1664 sphere of trying to compel people to compete when they do not want to.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulties, I am convinced that we must all of us, Parliament, the Government, newspaper managements and the public, stick resolutely to the objective of maintaining genuine variety and independence in the Press. There is no other way, even if one allows for the valuable help from this point of view of radio and T.V. competition, of guaranteeing the genuineness of the democratic process of debate and decision.
Only last week, I noticed one more illustration of the value of variety in the control of our newspapers. Lord Attlee made a short statement—characteristically short, two sentences—on the European Economic Community. This was not recorded in the editions which I saw of The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail the Financial Times or the Daily Mirror. It was reported in The Guardian, the Daily Express, and the Sun. Whether or not these exclusions or inclusions were accidental or deliberate, I have no idea; but we should all agree, from many such examples, that the more newspapers we have, the more likely the public is to know what is going on, and to be able to reach fair judgments.
If, however, we accept that Press freedom is necessary for democratic choice, we must face the awkward fact that a newspaper cannot be free unless it is commercially successful. The constant dilemma, and the fascination of journalism is that newspapers do, or ought to, try to maintain professional standards quite apart from commercial success. But if they do not pay, the hard truth is that they cannot survive.
The reasons why the industry has got into its present difficulties are not simply the failings of Fleet Street, glaring though these may be. These failings are not notably more glaring than they were as I can remember them in the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s, although some older journalists would say that there was rather greater fidelity to fact in those days. Most people in Fleet Street knew of these shortcomings without ever having the help of an Economist Intelligence Unit report of 600 pages, which I welcome for the admirable way in which 1665 it has shed light on a great array or facts.
What has happened in recent years is that the economic climate has changed. I was one of those who predicted—it was not difficult—in the debate in October, 1946 that in the newspaper industry… a tendency to amalgamate and combine will continue to be at work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428. c. 527.]just as in other industries, because of the economies of scale. Not merely has this happened, but in addition, what most of us did not foresee, newspapers ceased to be an expanding industry in the 1950s after nearly half a century of growing circulation. In addition, the price of newsprint, which even I can remember as at £11 a ton in the early 1930s in Fleet Street, now stands at about £57 a ton.
Saturation point also seems to have been about reached in the very high level of British newspaper readership, at just about the time when television and commercial television competition for advertisements started in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of television, not only have the newspapers suffered from the competition of a new source of information, debate and entertainment, but a share of available advertisements has been diverted. Economically, therefore, we are seeing the quite familiar phenomenon of an industry which has developed too many easy and comfortable practices during a period of prosperity later left high and dry by the receding tide. It is not at all unknown for other industries at such moments to ask for help from the taxpayer.
I have no wish to introduce any partisan argument in this debate, and it was only when, on 21st December, the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) tried rather rashly to argue that the newspapers' difficulties were, somehow, all due to the present Government's economic policy that I remarked also on the effects of television advertisements.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who I think hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will not be so far-fetched today as to pretend that all these troubles are due to the present Government. He knows perfectly well, as we all do, that there are long-term economic forces at 1666 work; that the News Chronicle and Star were swallowed up and that Odhams was taken over by the Daily Mirror organisation during the period of the previous Government; that it is the fact that advertisements have certainly been lost to the television companies; and that without the economic restraints of the last six months the country as a whole would have slid back towards the sort of balance of payments deficit from which we suffered in 1964. That would have been a high price to pay for maintaining the advertising revenue of the newspapers.
Therefore, we had better all admit what we know to be true—that the present economic difficulties of the newspaper industry are deep-rooted and persistent. The Economist Intelligence Unit report, commissioned, let us remember, to their credit, by both sides of the industry jointly, has most effectively brought to light the extent of over-manning, of wasteful and restrictive practices—not by any means only in the printing departments—and weak management which, in some cases, prevails. Frankly, this did not greatly surprise me. Having moved five times in my life between newspaper offices, on the one hand, and Government Departments, on the other, I have always found the contrast in efficiency and economic use of resources positively staggering.
There are, of course, as always in an imperfect world, great contrasts between one newspaper group and another. I note, for instance, that mention was made in the debate in another place of the interesting fact that the newspaper managements which the Report finds most efficient turn out to be those headed by men of the most mature years. That in itself shows that there is some difference on these matters. However that may be, the first necessity surely is for the newspapers to do what any industry must do which has become lax in its habits in a period of easy prosperity—that is, to reorganise and streamline its methods and practices so as to achieve a far more economical use of resources.
I believe that, on the evidence of the E.I.U. Report and the Monopolies Commission's Report on The Times, it should be perfectly possible to do that, despite the peculiar difficulties of newspaper production in this country. There are, for 1667 one thing, great possibilities of technological advance offering major economies if the capital can be found. It cannot be impossible, with the huge newspaper readership of today, for newspapers with circulations of hundreds of thousands or millions to survive economically if the industry is rationally organised.
In the Government's considered view, therefore, it is emphatically for the industry itself, management and unions, to find the solution and not to rely on some rescue action by the Government. It is not impossible, in our view, for the industry to find such a solution and it is clearly desirable that it should, because no workable system of Government support without Government control, or the suspicion of Government control, has yet been devised.
I should like to congratulate the management and unions of The Guardian on having only last week, after, I believe, a good deal of negotiation, reached a sensible agreement for greater productivity and efficiency which should enable—I hope that it will—that newspaper to carry on printing in London and so avoid a crisis which all of us would have deeply deplored. Let us also remember that the circulation of the quality newspapers, as they are called, as a whole has been continuing to rise, and that a great many local and provincial newspapers still survive and are commercially successful and maintain their independence, although the tendency for these also to be swallowed up has to be carefully watched.
For that and other reasons, Parliament insisted, through the Monopolies and Mergers Act, 1965, that major Press mergers should in future obtain the consent of the Board of Trade; and it empowered the Board to refer such proposals to the Monopolies Commission. One thing at least which the Government, with the authority of Parliament, can do is to stop a merger when it is economically possible for the two newspapers or the two firms to survive separately. What it cannot do is to force them to survive separately when one is not economically viable on its own. Both possibilities are real.
For instance, in the case of the disappearance of the News Chronicle and the Star, which many of us keenly 1668 regretted at the time, it would probably have been impossible for these two newspapers to carry on commercially on their own even if the Government had had power to stop a merger. In the different case, however, of the Daily Mirror and Odhams, it would have been perfectly possible economically for both to survive independently; and it was, ironically in that case, the very superior success of the Odhams magazines which led to the takeover. This shows at any rate that the negative control is worth having even if it is, no doubt, seldom used.
In accordance with those new powers, therefore, I referred, as I was bound to do, the proposed amalgamation between The Times and the Sunday Times to the Commission. The Commission, which I should like to thank for its commendable speed and very thorough report, found, in effect, that union with the Thomson Organisation was by far the most practical hope of preserving The Times as a separate independent newspaper. I decided that we were bound to accept that, if we faced the realities of the situation, but that, nevertheless, Parliament should have the most binding guarantees possible of the future independence of The Times.
There were also very natural anxieties about the printing arrangements of the Observer and The Guardian arising from this arrangement since the Observer is printed on The Times presses and the London edition of The Guardian on presses in Thomson House. Long-term security for both these arrangements was written into the original contracts—until 1984, oddly enough perhaps, for the Observer and until 1976 for The Guardian. Both newspapers were anxious about possibilities of commercial disadvantage which might arise if they were unable to withdraw from long-term contracts with newspapers which had become their competitors.
The Observer has now negotiated the right to withdraw from its arrangements with Times Newspapers Limited at one year's notice but has retained the right to receive five years' notice of termination from the printers. Lord Thomson has given The Guardian the right to cancel its printing contract at any time without penalty. The Monopolies Commission considered that the renegotiation of these arrangements was not a question 1669 on which it could properly suggest special safeguards in the public interest. I accepted its view and I think that a reasonable settlement has been reached.
Secondly, the Commission received from Lord Thomson an undertaking that the separate identity of the two papers—The Times and Sunday Times—would be preserved and that their two separate editors would be independent—that is, free to express their own opinions without interference from the editor-in-chief.
The majority of the Monopolies Commission was content with this, but I took the view that the personal assurance from Lord Thomson should be confirmed by the Thomson Organisation as such. Let me hasten to add that when I said in answer to a question on 21st December that personal assurances from Lord Thomson were not sufficient, I did not mean, as might perhaps have been misread, that his word was not reliable. This shows the danger of supplementary answers, as I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will agree.
What I meant was that Lord Thomson would not be for ever in control of the Organisation. I therefore obtained, in a letter to the Board of Trade from the Thomson Organisation, an assurance on behalf of the Organisation, not limited in time, that the two papers' separate identity would be preserved and the editors' independence respected. Now that both editors have been appointed, I think that we might wish them all good fortune in their independent existence and add that not just the Board of Trade but Parliament will jealously watch to see that these undertakings are honoured.
The then Leader of the Liberal Party asked me, very naturally, on 21st December—I am glad that the present Leader of the Liberal Party is now present and listening to what I am saying—why the undertakings on the independence of the editors could not be made legally as well as morally binding. The answer is that, short of depriving the proprietor of the right to appoint and dismiss the editor, there was no means by which these undertakings could be made legally binding. The obligation to respect the independence of an editor is incapable of precise legal definition, at least in the view of my legal advisers, and therefore cannot be made enforceable in the courts. In its nature it can be only morally binding. 1670 I think that the Commission, the Government and Parliament have now gone as far as is humanly possible to make this obligation inescapable. I also believe that the paramount importance which we all attach to it is well understood in Thomson House and, indeed, in Printing House Square.
Quite apart from The Times, however, one of the most disturbing conclusions in the Economist Intelligence Unit Report was the prediction that another four national newspapers might disappear in the next five years if economic solutions were not found. In a recent debate in another place much anxiety was expressed about this. What the E.I.U. Report said, however, was that this would happen if the necessary drastic remedies were not accepted. The warning to the industry is therefore plain; and, as I say, The Guardian, to its credit, has already acted on it.
Meanwhile, a number of suggestions have very understandably been put forward for one sort or another of Government support for ailing newspapers. I do not say that there is no case for something on these lines, in the last resort, if all else failed, and if the only alternative were concentration of the Press almost totally in the hands of one or two individuals.
These suggestions tend to take two main forms: either—this one was voiced in another place—that Government financial aid should be channelled through some independent authority, such as the Arts Council, or the National Film Finance Corporation, or the U.G.C.; or, alternatively, that there should be some system of levies which would redistribute revenue as between the fortunate and less fortunate papers.
The Government will study these and other proposals, and indeed we are studying them now. But I must say straight away that I see the most formidable difficulties in all of them. Any authority channelling Government aid, even indirectly, would have to decide which newspapers received it and which did not, and, unless any assistance was to be permanent, which is a rather fearsome thought, the unhappy authority would have to decide when it ceased in a given case and when, in effect, a newspaper was 1671 to be closed down. I fear that those responsible would have to be near-archangels not merely always to be just but also everywhere to be believed to be just.
There is, incdentally—I hope most people will agree—no parallel here with the B.B.C., because the B.B.C. is a forum of debate and does not, like a newspaper, express political views as those of the Corporation. Nor is there, I think, much parallel with the Arts Council or the N.F.F.C., since they do not finance political or party opinion or propaganda, though I am bound to say that only this very afternoon at Question Time my Department was criticised by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on the ground that we had indirectly financed a film which contained some theories which he did not like. That. I think, is a warning of where we might get to.
The second suggested alternative of some system of levies supporting the weak, in effect at the expense of the strong, while possibly not impracticable, would also, it seems to me, raise the most formidable problems of discrimination for whoever had the job of administering it.
The Government, therefore, believe that, while the study of such last resort remedies should be pursued—and everybody is very welcome to put forward new ideas in this debate and, indeed, elsewhere—it is unquestionably for the industry itself to set about the task, which we do not believe to be impracticable, of sorting out its own economic difficulties in the light of modern conditions and of the Report which it has itself commissioned, and with the help of the new Joint Board under Lord Devlin which it has also itself set up.
If the industry approaches us, we shall of course respond as sympathetically as we can, keeping in view the objectives which I have set out this afternoon. But it is our firm conviction that the newspapers themselves, if they are to be, and to be seen to be, independent, must find the main solution independently of the Government.
§ Mr. Terence Boston (Faversham)
Does what my right hon. Friend has just said mean that, if the unhappy prediction made in the Economist Intelli- 1672 gence Unit Report came to pass and, say, four or five newspapers closed down, the Government still would not regard that as sufficient reason to intervene even at that stage?
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
We on this side of the House also welcome this debate and are glad that the Government have found time for it. I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that this is not a party matter; it is very much a House of Commons matter and it has already been debated in another place in exactly the same spirit. This, too, we welcome.
I found myself entirely in agreement with the two themes of the right hon. Gentleman's speech—first, the vital need to maintain a free and independent Press and, secondly, the proposition that the answers to the problems of the Press must be found by the Press itself and not by the Government supporting it or interfering. Therefore, I find myself in entire agreement with the right hon. Gentleman on those two main themes, but I hope that he will not feel that for this reason I ought to be prevented from commenting once or twice upon the activities of the Government in this respect.
I suppose that for everyone in the House, the Press exerts an endless fascination. It is not only the race for news, almost always against time, but a combination of intense human feeling with extraordinary technical capability. It is those qualities which make the Press, as an industry, quite different from any other industry with which the President of the Board of Trade has to deal.
To those who play any part in the industry, that must always be so. The President of the Board of Trade has declared his own previous interest. Perhaps I, too, ought to declare an interest, though over a much shorter period than the right hon. Gentleman's. I was a working journalist, a sub-editor and a news editor. That was not a case of rapid promotion. As it was a very small newspaper, I did all three jobs at the same 1673 time. There one was writing copy against time, "subbing" other people's copy—[Interruption.] Yes, and very often "spiking" my own. The most fascinating part is watching the make-up on the stone, the smell of ink, and seeing the final pattern of a page. Every time that I go into a newspaper office today, I have only to get the smell of ink for the same tingle to be in the blood again. I suppose that the President of the Board of Trade has much the same experience.
Outside the newspaper office, frequently there is an extraordinary love-hate relationship between politicians and the Press or, indeed, between the Press and anyone about whom the Press writes.
That, then, is the fascination. Is it sufficiently justifiable for the House to spend a day debating the Press? Is it just a question of curiosity and of trying to interfere in other people's business? If I may say so, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have always expressed publicly their concern about the position of the Press, for a number of reasons, I think.
First of all, I believe that they have always had, deep down, the feeling that, as the Press is a capitalist institution, it is bound to work against their interests.[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] An hon. Gentleman opposite says, "Hear, hear". How he can say that today with the make-up of the national Press and the support which the Treasury Bench has been getting from it in almost unbelievable circumstances? Whether it be the national Press, the quality Press, the weekly or daily Press, I think that that argument has been knocked for six.
They have always felt that it was bound to lead to a monopoly position, and that that would be bad for their party. I have been looking into this a little. The Prime Minister's constituency has a monopoly situation of the Press. So have those of the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Education, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Technology. They do not seem to have done so badly with the monopoly position of the Press in their own constituencies, and some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite with I he largest majorities have a monopoly Press situation in their constituencies.
1674 Then, too, there has always been their anxiety about advertising. They have felt that, because the revenue of the Press to such a large extent comes from advertising, that, therefore, was bound to influence the policy of newspapers and militate against their party. I should not have thought that that was a valid argument today, and I do not think that anyone has tried to prove that that is so.
Incidentally, it is very interesting to see the extent to which a Government which has been so critical of advertising has, as the Financial Secretary revealed on 3rd February, greatly increased the amount which the Government themselves spend on advertising in the short time in which they have been in power. The President of the Board of Trade could claim that, thereby, they are trying to help the Press in its difficulties. But the right hon. Gentleman cannot have his argument both ways.
The third and, to me, regrettable reason why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite sometimes show anxiety is because they are prejudiced against change. They want to maintain the status quo and, on the whole, have not been prepared to adapt their attitudes to changes which, for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has given, have to come about in the newspaper industry. That being so, in order to keep the status quo, some of them would be prepared to have Government support and intervention. For that reason, I am glad to have heard the very clear statement from the President of the Board of Trade that he does not take that view.
May I comment on that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech where he referred to the Monopolies Commission? In carrying out its work, it was as expeditious as possible. However, there is no doubt that the interregnum of three months during which it was considering the matter is a very long time in the life of a newspaper under threat, and that can be very demoralising to its staff, who do not know what the outcome will be at the end of the inquiry.
What is the alternative with which the Monopolies Commission is faced? As the President of the Board of Trade has said so often it is either that it accepts a merger or one of the papers dies. He put forward the view that the 1675 Daily Herald could have continued independently. I did not know that that was the situation.
§ Mr. Heath
Odham's is a different matter and could have done so. The alternative was either that the Daily Herald was taken over under the present arrangement or it would have died. The staff in such a situation is faced with the constant anxiety about whether they should continue with their work with a merger or, if the paper is to die, should find other occupations. I hope that, on some future occasion, the Monopolies Commission will now have some standards by which they will be able to act more quickly than they did in that case.
Those are differences between us. However, we are agreed on one thing, and that is that, for a healthy society, we must have a free and independent Press. I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that that has to be on a commercial basis. But that does not alter the fact that the newspaper industry itself and all those who take part in it, particularly those who write in it, recognise that they have more than a commercial responsibility. They have a responsibility for their own integrity in the way in which they handle news and views and present it in a free society.
In having this debate, I ask myself if there is any real danger to our free society in the present position, or is there a real danger to us in the foreseeable future. In considering that, it is not enough to consider just the national Press. At Westminster, perhaps, we tend to think too much of the national Press, but one has to think of the Press as being the national Press, the provincial Press, the dailies, the evenings, the weeklies, and, in particular, the local Press. One has also to take account of radio and television as being means of information and discussion in a free society.
If we take into account the situation of all those different media of communication and the numbers involved, I do not see a threat to our free society in the present position. Given that action 1676 is taken now, I do not think that there is a real threat in the future. That is a considerable proviso, but, in view of the enlightenment and discussion which will come about after the E.I.U. Report, I hope that action will be taken. I shall have something to say about that in a moment.
I believe that the great provincial papers have a very important part to play in a free society. The President of the Board of Trade has mentioned The Guardian. To me, it was a sad day when The Guardian crossed the proud title of "Manchester" out of its heading and rushed to the Metropolis. It was a particularly irritating day when afterwards it lectured us about the importance of regional development. It would have helped its economics if it had not crossed out "Manchester" and rushed to London.
What is more, those of us who read a great deal of the Press feel that, when we read a paper from outside London, we are reading a view which is likely to be different from the view in London. It may be more earthy and less hot-house than what we get from the Press in London sometimes. The provincial papers have a particularly important part to play.
The same is true of local papers. It is not often realised, but it is shown by research done in by-elections, that the great majority of our citizens take their views from what they read in local newspapers even more than from what they read in the national Press or hear on television—[interruption.] I should not have thought that that was a matter of dismay for the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), but something which would have pleased him.
That, therefore, is the importance of the work which the local newspapers are doing. I believe that they would be helped further by local commercial radio stations in which they were allowed to have participation. It might be that that would cause some damage to the national newspapers, and it would be a matter of balance, therefore. But, as far as the importance of local newspapers is concerned, I believe that local commercial radio stations would help ease the problems of their existence. I do not believe that there is any real threat to our society today, to our democratic way of life, but 1677 there are the economic difficulties, and, like the right hon. Gentleman, I congratulate the industry on commissioning the E.I.U. Report and on its courage in publishing it, whether or not that was somewhat stimulated by the publication of The Guardian.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
Did the right hon. Gentleman say that the Board of Trade commissioned the E.I.U. Report?
§ Mr. Heath
I said that I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the industry as a whole, both sides of it, on commissioning it. This is an example which it has been suggested might be followed by other industries. I rather doubt whether there are many other industries which are as cohesive as this one, and on which similar reports could be published. It may be that there are sections of industry, or individual firms, in respect of which a report of this kind would be very useful, but it is up to the industry to put its own house in order. The weaknesses have been revealed, and it is up to the industry to put them right.
Many of the weaknesses are not peculiar to the newspaper industry. I regret that weakness of management extends into other spheres of British industry and needs attention. Restrictive practices are not limited to the newspaper industry, though it may be that they are in a more extreme form here. In taking this action I hope that all sections of the industry will be prepared not only to play their part in rectifying the weaknesses, but also in stimulating the action which requires to be taken generally.
Let me be more specific. I have never understood why a trade union should limit itself solely to the claims that it wishes to make on behalf of its members. Why should it not take part in stimulating the management to eliminate weaknesses which it knows exists? It is not only a question of the proprietors and shareholders who are involved. The editorial section, the management section, the production section, and the trade unions are all involved, and I hope that they will all set out to see that these weaknesses are remedied.
1678 I do not believe that it is up to us as a Parliament to tell them how to do it, and I suspect that we would not be very welcome if we did. Television, the radio, and the Press have the privilege of telling us how to run our show, but it is not a reciprocal privilege. I do not think that we ought to try to tell the Press how it should run its show, and it is not the business of the Government to interfere in running it.
Nor is it the business of the Government to offer financial support of any kind, either so that the Government can try to influence the Press, or so that the Press may feel that it is under an obligation to the Government, of whatever colour, because of some obligations which it has. For this reason I was rather unhappy about the proposal of the Prime Minister, which was supposed to have been made, that if the Press took out an indemnity against strikes the Government would be prepared to go in £ for £. This was reported in the Press as being made after his speech, in discussions with the Press. I do not believe that the indemnity suggestion is a very practicable one. If it were, it would have been adopted long ago by the newspapers themselves. Nor do I think that it is a satisfactory arrangement for the Government to take part in an indemnity policy of that kind especially when a member of the Government, the Minister of Labour, may be involved in any disputes which arise, and they may wish to protect that interest because of their contribution to the indemnity policy.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, if papers begin to fall by the wayside this is a matter of great regret, but I do not believe that they can operate on other than a commercial basis. We must recognise certain economic characteristics about this industry—on which the right hon. Gentleman touched briefly—if we are to have an understanding of it, and the things affecting it.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from his prediction about the healthy future of the regional and local Press, may I ask whether he agrees that if two or three of the four papers which have been mentioned fell by the wayside during the next three or four years there would be a serious threat to freedom and variety of opinion?
§ Mr. Heath
I said that I agreed with the President of the Board of Trade that if they take the action which is required they ought not to fall by the wayside, and this assumes that we move out of the present stage of the economy into the normal later stages. If three or four of the national papers were to fall by the wayside, obviously that would make a great difference, but I would not agree with the implication in the Prime Minister's speech that we need to have almost exactly the present number of newspapers, and I shall come to the reason for saying that in a moment.
This industry has certain characteristics, and they run through all the different sections of the industry which I have mentioned. First, as the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a contracting industry, in part because of the availability of new media of communication. I think that the industry has to face this. We have to accept that it is a contracting industry, and it has to adjust itself to this situation.
The second characteristic is that, on the whole—and when I say "on the whole" I mean taking it right across the board—the demand for newspapers is non-elastic. In other words, if prices go up right across the board the demand remains roughly the same, but if the price of an individual newspaper goes up, the demand suddenly becomes very elastic indeed, and people leave that newspaper and go to others. This shows that people are more concerned with the price of a newspaper than with continuing to buy a particular one which may suit their own views. I think that this is against the general belief about the attitude of people towards a free Press. This, I think, has an effect on the general economic structure of the papers.
Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman also said, there are increasing returns to scale in this industry, and for a double reason. First, some costs do not rise even though output is greatly increased. Secondly, advertising revenue rises faster than circulation. Thus, if it is possible to increase circulation, one benefits in two ways, and one tends to benefit at the expense of one's competitors. In other words, to him that hath shall be given, and success goes to the successful. This is really the key to the position in the newspaper industry.
1680 The result of that is that it is in the interests of those who are able to up circulation to keep their prices down, because it makes it much more difficult for their competitors, and, secondly, as the unions negotiate wages on a craft basis right across the board, it is in the management's interest to let the unions put the wages up because it makes it much more difficult for their competitors, and they can go on becoming more successful. It is these tendencies which lead to imperfect competition, tending to move into a monopoly situation. This is why it is right to have a Monopolies Commission to deal with it.
But even these economic characteristics are affected by two things. First, the immense damage which can be caused by a strike, which very few newspapers can face, for the very simple reason that the loss of sales on one day can never be made good on another. This industry is unlike almost every other industry, and so it is under pressure. It is not only a question of weak management. It is the extraordinary cost of a strike in these circumstances.
The situation is intensified by the dominant position of advertising in the total revenue. This is where the economic cycle comes in. As soon as there is a turn-down in the economic cycle, advertising revenue drops sharply. This affects newspapers which have smaller circulations, because in a time of economic downturn advertisers keep their advertising with the papers with the largest circulation. This again intensifies the natural economic pressures going on in the newspaper world.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that while it is true that in respect of mass produced goods advertisers tend to keep to those papers with the largest circulations, for those goods which have a more selective market the criterion is cost per thousand readers? Often newspapers make the mistake of trying to boost circulation, and therefore distort the cost per thousand readers.
§ Mr. Heath
I agree with my hon. Friend who has better knowledge of this matter, but it remains true that, from the point of view of circulation, a time of economic downturn amplifies the weaknesses and the strengths of the industry, 1681 and these are the underlying economic characteristics.
In the present position we have to look at the factors which have operated over the last two years. In the long-term, certain technical factors are working in the opposite direction from the factors which I have mentioned, but I will first deal with the temporary factors. We have had two years and three months of squeeze under the Government. I do not want to enter into the pros and cons of that, but for a long period a downturn of this kind has a considerable effect on advertising revenue. I am told that between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. has gone. That has obviously undermined the financial position of the newspapers.
I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that newspapers cannot be exempted from the general economic situation; indeed, the Government said that they wanted a shake-out, and this is part of the shake-out. Presumably, therefore they cannot criticise it. It is part of their general policy. The results which they ask for are being brought about.
But there is another aspect of the situation which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, namely, the surcharge on newsprint. During the two years in which the surcharge was in operation the total amount paid in respect of newsprint was £7, 281, 632. The Canadians agreed to pay half the surcharge themselves, and there were one or two other small exemptions, but the amount borne by the United Kingdom users in those two years was just over £5 million. That is a direct Government responsibility. Taking £5 million out of the newspaper industry over two years has undoubtedly had a tremendous impact upon its financial stability.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Opposition raised this matter in the debate on 2nd December, 1964, which did not come on until 2 o'clock in the morning. We moved an Amendment to exempt newsprint from the surcharge, but we got no sympathy from the Government. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would deny that the surcharge of over £5 million has had a considerable effect on the financial position of the industry.
§ Mr. Wilkins
The right hon. Gentleman will know that prices of newsprint are normally increased about every three years, and on those occasions by substantial amounts.
§ Mr. Heath
That does not alter the position of the newspapers. They had to find an extra £5 million to pay the surcharge from their financial resources. At the moment newsprint manufacturers have asked to be permitted to increase the price of newsprint by £2 a ton. Whether or not they will receive authority to do so I do not know, but if they do it must be borne in mind that the price of newspapers is pegged and therefore an additional burden is bound to be placed upon newspapers unless the Government take action to unpeg them. That is another factor for which the Government are responsible.
Newspapers get back S.E.T. They were exempted, as manufacturers. Nevertheless, they have had to find the money to pay each week—many of them, in their present position, from loans on which they have to pay 8 per cent. interest. That is another important factor.
The Selective Employment Tax applies to the advertising industry, and this has increased the cost of advertising, which, in turn, has rebounded on the newspaper industry. That is the third economic factor in the present situation. I have said that the Government ought not to intervene or subsidise, but I say at the same time that they should not have placed these burdens on the industry.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker)
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what will happen to the price of newsprint if we enter the European Economic Community without negotiations?
§ Mr. Heath
I would have to refresh my memory very quickly on that point. We would have Scandinavian as well as French supplies in the Common Market, and the situation would probably be rather better. That is how we visualise the position in the negotiations, assuming that the Scandinavian countries come in.
On the best information that I can obtain it is clear that the industry is now on the verge of a technical revolution as great as Caxton's printing press. New and exciting vistas lie ahead for the industry if it is prepared to seize its opportunities. There is the technical development of new machines at a lower capital cost and with smaller manning. I find myself in disagreement with the Prime Minister when he said that the time when a young Northcliffe could come along, or a new Beaverbrook could revive a dying newspaper, were past.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman is pointing at his hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth. I was going to point to him. There is the epitome of Beaver-brook and Northcliffe combined. He has shown that with the new process of web offset it is possible to start a newspaper much more easily and to produce it much more cheaply. These processes can be greatly extended. I understand that at the moment it is possible to run off only 100,000 copies, but with new technical equipment spread out in different centres and computer-controlled centrally it would be possible to run off a mass circulation more cheaply and much more easily, with far fewer men.
People are also discussing the question whether we shall eventually have line equipment in our homes which will produce the equivalent of a daily newspaper. Like many others, I treat that suggestion with some scepticism, but that does not alter the fact that, from the point of view of the industry, these possibilities are now available.
In this situation, is there anything which the Government should be doing? 1684 I suggest that there are four things. One of the weaknesses exposed by the E.I.U. Report was a weakness of management. I have said that the Government must produce more facilities for the training of management, and this must be done soon and on a scale so far not considered either by the last Government or the present one.
Secondly, the Government have a rôle to play in dealing with restrictive practices. We have put forward suggestions for dealing with these. In this industry there is overmanning, as was pointed out by the E.I.U. Another factor of equal importance is the extent to which wage levels have been pushed up by restrictive practices on entry. That problem should also be tackled. We have suggested that it can be tackled by the creation of a registrar of trade unions, acting under rules laid down by Parliament, who would be able to give establishment to unions provided they dealt with matters such as freedom of entry, restrictive practices on manning, and so on. This could be done on a productivity agreement basis. A solution could then be reached on the lines arrived at by The Guardian. Any of these methods could be used, but there must be genuine productivity agreements to deal with these problems.
Thirdly, the Government must deal with the problem of S.E.T., which is another burden on the advertising industry and therefore, indirectly, on the newspaper industry.
Fourthly, the Government could help with the various research organisations over which it has influence, and sometimes control, in the development of the new techniques now largely being exploited in the United States. British manufacturers would embark on making this equipment and developing it if they saw a new demand for it developing, and if they saw that the problems of manning practices were being dealt with. There would therefore be a demand for this equipment, and management, having been trained and improved, would recognise the possibility of the equipment. I would prefer to see British equipment manufacturers making this equipment here and helping in scientific research sponsored by the Government than to see us buy only from the United States of America.
I conclude by referring to the work of the Press. Some of us would like 1685 to see further developments in what is published. We would like, for example, to see a deeper analysis of foreign policy, defence policy and home policy in addition to the daily commentary and reports; in other words, a much deeper and more fundamental analysis of these policies. If this is to happen, we must have what I previously described as a much more open society than we have today. Much greater provision of information of this kind must be forthcoming, and this is a sphere in which the Government can act and set an example. There should be much greater freedom of discussion about the issues which arise and the alternative courses open to the Government to follow in dealing with them.
Having been in Government for 13 years, I recognise the natural hesitation of Governments to adopt this approach. However, we in this country have perhaps gone too far in the other direction. I would on a partial, but not an impartial, occasion criticise the Government for the influence which they have brought to bear on the Press during their term of office. But today, as we are considering this matter impartially, I will not go into that—except to say that it was wrong of the Government to clamp down when they came to power on the production of any information by the Civil Service—by people well accustomed to handling these matters—and by the Foreign Office, which has had a long tradition of dealing with the Press. They clamped down, and the Prime Minister personally clamped down, on the provision of information of this kind.
In the House of Commons we thought, when the present Leader of the House took his present position, that there would be a revolution in approach towards these matters. The right hon. Gentleman appeared only six months ago in the guise of the back-bencher's friend. Now he is going down in history as "closure Crossman". He has not produced any revolution in discussion in the House of Commons about policy matters, and the specialist committees are obviously not going to produce the answer in the way it is really required.
An interesting example recently occurred in the American Senate and I draw it to the attention of the House because it 1686 occurred in one of the most difficult spheres of all—defence. The Secretary of State, Mr. McNamara, gave his evidence to the Senate Defence Appropriations Committee and, at the end of his evidence—with General Wheeler seated beside him—he said:General Wheeler has not prepared a separate statement today, but, as I mentioned in my comments on my own statement, there is a difference of view between us on the antiballistic missile system itself. I would like to ask, if I may, for him to have time to present his views to you. I think it is very important to hear them".That is an interesting example of how, in the American Senate, on the most difficult subject of all, the Secretary of State and the Chief of Staff, who held different views, explained their views to the Senate Committee; and when General Wheeler was asked which policy he was following, he said that he was following the policy of the Secretary of State because that was the policy which had been laid down.
That might be considered an extreme example, but it shows that there is an enormous amount of room in our procedures—the way in which the Government handle their business and the information that they provide—for a discussion of the alternative and of which alternative should be followed. That is particularly true in the economic sphere and I suggest that one could start there, even if the Government are not prepared to deliver more information about financial matters.
I discovered a quotation the other day from Mr. Sorensen's book about the late President Kennedy. It stated that although Mr. Krushchev's… totalitarian system has many advantages as far as being able to move in secret, there is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily—even though we never like it and even though we wish they did not write it and even though we disapprove, there is not any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very very active press.That seems to summarise the position very well. Perhaps I can modestly say, as one of those who has had a certain experience of the abrasive quality of the Press, that I agree entirely with those remarks of the late President Kennedy.
It is not only essential for a healthy society to have a free and independent Press. It is essential for the vitality of 1687 our society—and, in particular, the economic vitality of our society—to argue out these issues; and that can be done only by having a free Press in a free society with the Government themselves being prepared to provide the information which it ought to have.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
May I begin by declaring my interest in that I am the chairman of an organisation which owns some local newspapers? I am also by way of being a journalist. I should, perhaps, also add that what I shall say today will be wholly negative and almost totally unconstructive.
I agree with both Front Bench speakers that there is no artificial device which can reasonably work without Government interference and yet which can prop up a free Press. I say that because once one starts applying such devices—be they subsidies, the Government directing advertising along certain paths, a newsprint levy or anything else—one cannot avoid the odium of Government interference. The Press has not asked for help, although one would imagine from the fact of the debate that it had gone to the Government and said, "Do something for us". To its credit it has done nothing of the sort. The basic thing wrong with the Press today is that newspapers are sold at far too much below their cost of production.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I regret to have to intervene in my hon. Friend's speech so early, but, to take what he is saying to its logical conclusion, is he suggesting that the B.B.C. is not free because it is being subsidised?
§ Mr. Wyatt
No, and that point was dealt with by my right hon. Friend when he said that the B.B.C. was not peddling any political view, although it gives a forum for the expression of a variety of different views. There is a big difference between the B.B.C. and newspapers.
As I was saying, the basic trouble with the Press is that newspapers are being sold at far too much below their cost of production. It all began with Lord Northcliffe who started the ½d. Daily Mail and who quickly brought its circulation to the one million mark by 1900. He got enormous advertising revenue and was, therefore, able to go on subsidising 1688 his newspaper to an even larger circulation. The other popular newspapers were forced to follow suit, and so began the trend—backward or forward whichever way one wishes to describe it—of newspapers being sold at far less than their cost of production.
Until Lord Northcliffe arrived on the scene, newspapers had been sold very much at their cost of production. Indeed, during the 19th century they were normally sold at about ls. a time. Even the Banbury Guardian was sold in 1845 for 5d. a copy; and while its price was recently increased to 9d., in real terms it is being sold very much below its price of 5d. of 120 years ago. During the 19th century newspapers were being sold not only at, but above, their price of production and at that time there were 50 newspapers in London alone. And when one gets newspapers being sold at their cost of production one has the possibility of a greater variety of newspapers. That follows like night follows day.
I will quote from my experience of two local newspapers to indicate what I mean. The Banbury Guardian costs us I s. 10d. a copy to produce. In that charge is the printing, inks, materials and printing works charges of 9d. per copy. We increased the price to 9d. but we still receive only 5.1d. back because the newsagent takes one-third of the price and the wholesaler takes 15 per cent. of what is left after the newsagent has taken his one-third. So we are still 1s. 4.9d. below the cost of production. If we were to remove our advertising staff altogether and have no advertisements, that would save us 1.9d. per copy, which would still leave a gap of 1s. 3d. between the cost of production and what we receive after it has been sold.
May I take next, the Birmingham Planet, a large circulation newspaper. The costs begin in this case to come down a little, but even then each newspaper costs us 1s. 3d. to produce. It costs 6d. to print. There is a gap of 9.9d. on each copy after we receive our 5.1.d. Of course, these are very small newspapers, but however high up the scale we go in quantity we are left with this proposition.
The Daily Mirror, for example, costs 3d. to produce each copy. It is sold at 4d. so, as the newsagents take a third, and the wholesaler 15 per cent., without 1689 advertising the Daily Mirror would be sold at a fantastic loss every day. The Daly Mirror is happily placed because it enjoys an enormous advertising revenue and it probably could be sold at 3d. a copy. But if this practice were followed by some other newspapers they would get into difficulties.
All these worthy reports continually tell us how inefficient newspapers are and how vile the unions are to maintain restrictive practices. There may be some truth in all this, but it is not the whole answer. The elimination of all restrictive practices would not deal with the gaps I am talking about—nowhere near it. Much is said about the unions in the printing industry. Personally I have never had any difficulty in dealing with them—not the slightest. The moment we started printing by web offset I asked to see the relevant officials in the unions. I asked if they would give us their cooperation because we were the first in England to do it and it would be a revolution in newspaper printing, and they said "Yes". At this moment we have only just over half the number of men manning our machines as the Thompson organisation have been happy to agree to at Hemel Hempstead and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Wyatt
As my hon. Friend says, it is a legacy of the past. I utter a word of caution here. The Leader of the Opposition spoke in optimistic terms about web offset printing. It is not necessarily cheaper. One gets a far better quality of product, but there is nothing cheaper for printing a local newspaper than by the old Cosser flatbed letterpress. One can never beat that for price. Of course, there are advantages in printing web offset at local centres, and using computers, and the introduction of colour will enable the industry to make a comeback as against commercial and colour television and ordinary television. This is very important, but we should not necessarily assume that it will be cheaper. It may turn out in the end to be more expensive.
On the point about restrictive practices, I understand from The Guardian that even under the new arrangements the contribution which the unions are making in abolishing or eliminating restrictive 1690 practices will save The Guardian about £160,000 a year. That may sound a lot of money, but it is not such a lot when one is running a great newspaper. I am told that it will provide only a breathing space and will not be a springboard for expansion and success. The restrictive practices side is greatly exaggerated. It is terribly easy to pin the blame on the unions and to say that that is why the industry is in a bad position.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
May I remind my hon. Friend that the E.I.U. Report says:Restrictive practices are not as bad as is generally believed. They do exist, particularly in the machine room and the process department but we do not believe that restrictive practices materially affect the final success or failure of any newspaper. …This underlines what my hon. Friend has said and contradicts what has been said from the Front Bench and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I agree with my hon. Friend, and share that view. Of course, it plays an important part. It would be much better if management were more efficient, but, however efficient management is, it cannot make the public read a newspaper which they do not want to read. Only journalists can do that.
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Member is dealing with the question of restrictive practices from the point of view of overmanning and what is required in this respect with the amount of work done, but he is not dealing with the other aspect of restrictive practices on which I touched and which is dealt with in the Report—the level of wages which is the result of the provision of restrictive practices.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I am sure that there is a lot of truth in that, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) will catch Mr. Speaker's eye and speak from the unions' point of view. I am glad to say that at Banbury—I have to be careful what I say here—we are not paying too much over the odds. The trouble is, of course, the gap between costs of production and the price at which a newspaper is sold. We all hope that will be filled up by advertising, and to a certain extent it has been over the years.
1691 What has happened to advertising? The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) said that he thought it was down by 15 per cent., but I think that very optimistic. My information is that over the nation as a whole it is down 25 per cent. to 30 per cent., taking in local newspapers as well. I have done a great deal of research on this, although the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) may disagree with my figures. The Banbury Guardian, I am glad to say, is only down by 13.1 per cent. The Birmingham Planet, a new paper, which we could not have got started without web offset colour, is down by over 30 per cent. Whatever the figure, it is very large indeed compared with the profits and in many cases it wipes out profits completely and creates a large loss.
Newspapers have become even more vulnerable to economic fluctuations in recent years because of the introduction of commercial television. There is only a certain amount of advertising to be got out of the country at a given moment. The size of it can be expanded a little, but it cannot be enormously expanded and when one puts in a huge new medium taking millions of pounds every year that money has to come from somewhere and in this case the "somewhere" is newspapers. We hear that local radio may be commercially run with advertising. I should greatly deplore that. First, I do not think it necessary because it can be run so cheaply and paid for out of the rates. It would mean a very small rate, about ¼d. per head, or something of that kind. If it is done by advertising it will harm newspapers because the "cake" cannot be indefinitely expanded.
It is no good suggesting, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that local newspapers will benefit because they can participate in local radio stations, for by that means we would be ossifying the newspaper situation. It would mean that the fellow in a newspaper now would be artificially propped up by revenue from something else and if someone wanted to start a new newspaper he would not have the same backing. This is one of the basic reasons why so much of the Press of Britain has got into Lord Thomson's hands. I am not saying anything against Lord Thomson, for whom 1692 I have a great admiration and respect, but because—as he put it in his own words—he was given "a licence to print money" by the Conservative Government he was able to make enormous sums and to buy the Sunday Times and The Times itself. He would never have done that but for the fact that he was given a huge stake in Scottish Television. Other newspapers, not so fortunately placed, were not given a similar stake. I am glad that The Guardian has a stake in Anglia Television because that helps the newspaper to survive. It would be very much nearer coming to a close without that stake. But we ought to introduce new media with a commercial aspect and dish them out to existing newspapers because that ossifies and stultifies the structure which exists.
What should be done about newspapers? I think only one thing can be done. Newspapers should put up their prices. This is the simplest answer. For example, the Kent Messenger, which is published probably not far from the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bexley, recently put up its price from 6d. to 8d. It has a circulation of about 70,000. I have been told by the Kent Messenger that initially it lost 5,000 circulation but immediately recovered 2,000 and probably will recover it all. It will, therefore, be able to stand the extra price because it is providing a genuine service which people want. It was able to go on selling and to make good much of the loss of the advertising revenue which it has suffered. I do not know yet how we shall fare with the Banbury Guardian and Birmingham Planet because we put up the price only last week, but my information so far is that we will not do too badly on it.
Before the war, the so-called quality newspapers used to be twice the price of the popular newspapers. Before the war, The Guardian and The Times used to cost twice as much as the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror. The reason why that is not the case today is that their managements have not had sufficient courage to try it out. In my view, The Guardian certainly ought to be 8d. today and not 5d., and The Times likewise should be 8d. instead of 5d. If all the popular newspapers go up in price, the quality newspapers should go up to twice the level of the popular newspapers. I believe that they would 1693 find that there was a hardcore of readers who feel they simply must get The Guardian's or The Times' view of life and would go on buying them even if their price were doubled or if they cost as much as a shilling.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
In taking that line of argument, does not my hon. Friend think that it would solidify the readership to those who can afford the price, so that ordinary people earning £11 or £12 a week would he restricted to the cheaper newspapers?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I take that view with a pinch of salt. After all, 9d. is only the price of three cigarettes. It is not a great deal to pay for an enormous newspaper. Anyone who cannot afford it can go to the local public library and read it. It is not so difficult. I do not think that anybody would be penalised by putting up the price of a newspaper.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
The hon. Member has mentioned the Kent Messenger. His hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), whose constituency, like mine, is covered by the Kent Messenger, has probably suffered from the number of letters that I have had complaining about its increase in price. As the hon. Member for Gravesend has said, many ordinary people are undoubtedly penalised by the increase in the price of a local newspaper.
§ Mr. Wyatt
No doubt, people are irritated by it, but we are all penalised by price increases. There is nothing remarkable about that. Had the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) been present earlier, he would have heard me say that the Banbury Guardian cost 5d. in 1845 and is only 9d. today. That is not a very fast rise. The same applies to the Kent Messenger.
§ Mr. John Wells
On a point of order. The hon. Member said that if I had been here earlier, I would have heard what he said about his own newspaper. I was here earlier and I heard it.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I am sorry that the hon. Member did not benefit from it. If all the popular newspapers—the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, and so on—were to go up by Id. in price, that would greatly help the newspapers which today are in a weaker state. As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said, prosperous newspapers do not go up in price because they would like to see their rivals killed. The weaker ones should be bold. They should try it out and see whether they cannot risk going up in price. If they have a distinctive message and approach to offer, people will buy their papers and they will be all right.
There has been much speculation about which are the four newspapers that the Economist Intelligence Unit thinks are in severe danger. Personally, I think that they are the Daily Sketch, the Sun, The Guardian and the Sunday Telegraph. The Daily Mail, the Observer and the Sunday Citizen are pretty wobbly, too. At least two of those papers, however, have the remedy in their own hands. The Observer should be at least 1s. and the Sunday Telegraph should be at least 9d. I think that they would obtain quite sufficient money from their readership at those prices.
Even if some of these newspapers, because of economics and their situation today, were to disappear, I do not believe that there would be any real threat to democracy. We have had newspapers disappear before without any threat to democracy. Newspapers will always be started and go. Different views will always break through somehow, even if it is on television, radio or anywhere else or even if it is by somebody starting a magazine like Private Eye. There is always room for a different view and it will always get its sales if there is genuine demand for it.
We should leave the newspaper industry to find the level between the desire to express different views in a variety of newspapers and the willingness of the public to pay for them. If they are sufficiently interesting, the public will pay for them. In due course, it may be that ways will be found of producing newspapers more cheaply so that they can be sold more widely and closer to the cost of production, but until newspapers are sold closer to the cost of production 1695 there is no other remedy that can be applied. Certainly, the Government are not the organisation to try to apply one.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I am always a little inhibited in following in debate the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), because we have the authentic voice not only of the Banbury Guardian and the Birmingham Planet, but of a successful capitalist newspaper proprietor. Such is the respect which I retain for the hon. Member that since the Leader of the Opposition referred to him as the reincarnation of Northcliffe and Beaverbrook, it seems to me that, alas, it is only a matter of time before the hon. Member is translated to another place. The process is inevitable. I was greatly interested in what the hon. Member said about the possibility of increasing prices.
I hope that the House will acquit me of any intended discourtesy if I find that the demands of Anglo-Soviet relations are such that I may not be in my place for the whole of the debate. I last spoke in a Press debate on the death of the News Chronicle. It is a cause of some relief that the debate today has not been caused by the need to mourn the death of one more paper or to debate the threatened demise of another.
I say that because, without getting unduly metaphysical, I think that when a newspaper dies, a living organisation dies. It is not only the large and dedicated staff who find themselves out of work and have difficulty in getting employment for their craft—and I know that that happened in the case of the News Chronicle and the Star, though, happily, I believe that most of their employees are now occupied in other directions—but such things are also the end of a tradition. The Star particularly was a campaigning newspaper with a warm heart and a deep sense of idealism. Therefore, when that paper died, a living organisation died as well.
I must, I suppose, declare an interest that at one stage I made a living as a television commentator. Television probably did a great deal to stimulate the B.B.C. into being more active and probably also stimulated the newspapers as well. The importance of the newspapers cannot, however, be overestimated. It 1696 has even been suggested that at times they should be a substitute in the unlikely event of our having an ineffective Opposition. Very often the Government need an effective Opposition and it is felt that if an Opposition should fail at any time in discharging that rôle, the Press can have a useful part to play. I believe, however, that the principle of noninterference, which both the President of the Board of Trade and the Leader of the Opposition have mentioned, is entirely right.
In my view, there have been three interesting developments in the last few weeks. The first was the publication of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Report. Its importance is not what it said, but the mere fact that those things were said, and said publicly. We are a strange race. We do not like to criticise ourselves but, being basically masochistic at heart, we are always very happy to have somebody else, whether a Royal Commission, an Economist report or somebody else, criticising us and then we show how broad-minded we are by accepting the conclusions that are reached about us.
The second development is the discussions which are about to take place between the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the trade unions.
The third matter to which I would draw attention is the experiment in offset process which the Daily Mirror is carrying out in Belfast. It is true that it is not a new process. I think that the hon. Member for Bosworth experimented in it first, but this is the first time that a paper with a national circulation has done so. I was privileged to see the paper being printed in Belfast on Sunday night. This will have, or could have, a dramatic effect upon the content and the economics of newspapers.
Put shortly, the first criticism in the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit was of management—that management had inadequate cost control. That is entirely a matter for the newspapers themselves. It may well be that they will need a Marples in their midst, and perhaps they will take advantage of any available spare source of supply on the labour market for that purpose. Second, it was suggested that, with 700 circulation representatives, newspapers were not getting a proper return. There was not efficiency. In this regard, perhaps they 1697 need to find a Beeching. It was also suggested that, over the next five years, revenue would not keep track with overheads—I thought then of a dim and distant Callaghan in our midst—and, further, that in 1970 a fair number of closures would have to be faced.
The Report mentioned overmanning, inadequate training facilities, and the insecurity felt about the employment of people in the industry. Last but by no means least, there was mention of the need for joint boards, which I as a Liberal, believing in the idea of partnership in industry, needless to say, welcomed enthusiastically.
There is no secret formula for the sale of a successful newspaper. As the hon. Member for Bosworth said, the first requirement is that the public must want to buy it. The second is that the quantity sold or the quality of the paper which is sold must be sufficient to attract an adequate revenue from advertising. There is a great dispute about what the percentage of revenue from advertising should be. In some mass circulation papers it is as low as 35 per cent. In others it is over 50 per cent.
The hon. Member for Bosworth said that the advertising revenue cake would not grow, but I think it right to point out that whereas in 1947, if the evidence of the Statistical Review is right, the total amount spent on advertising in the Press was about £18 million, in 1966 the combined gross total of Press and television had reached the astronomic figure of £286 million, very nearly one-seventh of our total defence bill. In that regard, the newspapers, in my view, have been surprisingly successful in keeping their share of the advertising revenue against the inroads of commercial television.
The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) will know much more about this, and may have something to say if he is called to speak, but it seems that television is used as the spearhead of the commercial attack and the Press is used as a follow-up. I believe that there will be difficulty here. We shall have colour in television which will present great competition unless or until the web offset process is used extensively by the national newspapers to produce a comparable form of colour advertising.
The pirate broadcasting stations have already shown what inroads local broad- 1698 casting could make, if it were on a commercial basis, into the revenue receipts of newspapers. To that extent, while the advertising cake may become larger, the newspapers will have to continue in battle to maintain their proportion as against television and, perhaps, commercial radio as well. There is, therefore, a great economic challenge to the newspapers.
Now, the trade unions. It is perfectly true—everyone knows it—that there is overmanning. When I was in Belfast last Sunday I happened to pick up a certain lever—I understand that it is called the igranic stop—so that I could stop newspapers coming through a machine and take a paper out to see whether the four-colour printing process had yet been perfected. I was told that had I done that in Fleet Street the whole shop would have stopped at once because a member of one union had to lift the stop and a member of another had to drop it.
The other day, when I was asked to appear on a television programme—a rare and terrifying event for me—there were four representatives of the Press present discussing the industry, and one would have thought that no one had ever heard of restrictive practices, that they did not exist, that no one had ever had any difficulties with overmanning, or anything of that sort. We know, of course, what the position is
It is important that talks are to start between the trade unions and the N.P.A. This shows a real understanding on both sides. Second, there is the acceptance by the trade unions of the experiment which is going on in Belfast at the moment. This is extremely encouraging and shows very great foresight on the part of the trade unions. Although the hon. Member for Bosworth assessed The Guardian's savings at only £160,000, I think it true to say that the greater part of the projected £500,000 saving could not have been made possible were it not for the co-operation of the trade unions in the printing industry.
It is my view, therefore, that whatever may be the present over-manning problems and restrictive practices from the past, which, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) said, were inherited from an unhappy time which, please God, will never return, there is on the part of the trade unions a genuine 1699 acceptance of the need to experiment in modern techniques and realistic manning.
It is interesting that although many of the national newspapers are told that they are in a weak position, and it is said that the lives of four are in jeopardy, the major local newspapers—the Western Mail, the Liverpool Daily Post, the Western Morning News and others—are to a very large extent in a healthy economic position. Certain lessons can be deduced from this. Obviously, the first is that they do not have the same distribution costs. This is important. Second, while they have definite national news interest, they also have considerable local interest for the reader.
This should not be under-estimated as a factor in the saleability of a newspaper. I am sure that it is tremendously important. The completely local newspapers, the weekly newspapers, may be bought by people who want to know who presided at the Women's Institute or where to buy a second-hand sewing machine for 6d. But this is all part of the same thing. Although we are in this country interested in international affairs, we are also intensely regional in our outlook, in the sense that we want to know what is going on and how national economic trends, for example, affect local economic conditions. This is very healthy, and it is something which, I believe, the national newspapers have not yet sufficiently realised.
I come now to the Daily Mirror experiment. This involves an experimental expenditure of about £1 million. What is enormously exciting about it is that, although the typesetting is done in Manchester, the page which is completed is transmitted by photographic process to Belfast. It, needs, therefore, no subsequent typesetting. The photographic print which is received is then put upon an aluminium plate which in turn is put upon the printing machine; it is this which goes through, and the finished product comes out at the other end.
This process means that the Daily Mirror is able not only to produce an Ulster edition but an Eire edition as well. [Interruption.] Yes, both parts of Ireland. I make no comment at the moment about the Border. The Daily Mirror is thus able to cater for regional interests, and it is able also to 1700 cut down on distribution costs. In addition, it has realistic manning and it saves something like 50 per cent. in the labour employed.
One of the great strengths of newspapers in West Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia, with the possible exception of Sweden, is that they are not centralised to the extent that they are in this country. There are great regional newspapers. For example, one will find just as good journalists in Bavaria as in Bonn, the centre of government. Therefore, there is much greater variety.
I hope that one effect of the process will be that every national newspaper which can afford the capital outlay will consider having regional variations, for example, for Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, the North and the West Country. I think that that will have two effects. First, there will be regional variations in advertising, and therefore a completely unmined seam of advertising revenue can be attracted, which is obviously in the financial interests of the newspaper. Secondly, because it can blend local news with the national, it will have an appeal to people living in the region concerned.
There is, for example, a machine which will print three different colours in something like a minute. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bosworth has a machine which will do it even quicker. How long that will exist under his particular wage freeze, I do not know, but I wish him success. I believe that colour can, to use his words, recapture the initiative for the newspaper industry. If we are going to have colour in television it is vital that newspapers should do that.
But I do not believe that the move towards technological change and realistic manning, for closer co-operation between management and trade unions, and more efficient management itself, is a matter for the House. It is a matter for the industry. The industry, which took the initiative in setting up the Press Council—let us not forget that it was from within the industry that the Council was set up—might do much more than it has in having some form of pool for the results of the research of the various newspapers. Enormous sums of money are being spent by various newspapers, and there is very little co-operation between them on research.
1701 There may well be something to be said for a form of centralised research, in which ideas could be pooled and exchanged. It is true that the larger newspapers can afford to absorb increased overheads, and that in turn may lead to the death of smaller newspapers and a further restriction of competition. But I hope that they will be sufficiently enlightened to have some form of centralised research.
The Economist Report referred to inadequacy of training, both in management and trade unions. I hope that there may be discussions on that in the industry, and that the Press will also play a greater part in assisting the international Press, particularly in the developing countries. Lord Thomson's Organisation has a particular claim to credit for what it has done in some emerging countries, particularly in West Africa.
I agree that there is no question of the Government giving positive financial assistance to the newspapers, but I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that through their fiscal policies they have not exactly assisted the Press. But that argument is equally applicable to many other industries, and that is therefore a matter of general and not particular application.
One should remember the enormous revenue derived from Government and local government advertisements. Heaven alone knows what the last three pages of advertisements in the average Sunday paper would carry if it were not for the "Situations Vacant" advertisements. There would be a grave economic effect on the newspapers if the Government were able to offer their wares through other advertising media.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bosworth that there may well be a case for raising the price of the quality newspapers for the simple reason that people cannot afford to be without them. But I think that for the semi-quality newspaper—perhaps that is a term of endearment and not of art—any substantial increase would not produce economic benefit and might do the reverse. I believe that only three or four newspapers could stand an increase in their price without economic damage.
The answer to the problem comes down to two points. First, it depends on whether newspapers are prepared for the 1702 considerable capital outlay involved in all forms of technological experiment. Secondly, it depends upon efficient management and the co-operation of the unions. I do not think that one will get either until there is much closer cooperation between union and management. It also depends on the integrity of the journalist.
I believe that the value of the debate is to show the Press that we, as the House of Commons, do not intend to interfere. We hope that it will be successful but we also hope that it will realise that itseconomic future lies in its own hands. If it is prepared to rise to the challenge, we shall continue to have a free Press. If not, we shall have about one newspaper die every year until there are probably only five left.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
It has been a real pleasure to me to be in the House today to hear the debate. The speeches so far have been sober, well-considered and serious in their content in the main. I am sure that they are intended to benefit the industry in the days ahead.
I want to make a serious speech, to which I have given quite a lot of consideration. That means that I want to refer to my notes a little more than I normally like to do, as a result of spending almost the entire weekend trying to read 150,000 words and absorb their meaning. At times I felt that I wanted some ice-packs around my head.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his recognition this afternoon that the industry itself commissioned the E.I.U. Report, at very heavy cost, through a new joint board which it set up. I doubt whether any other industry would have been prepared to spend £47,000 to commission a self-examination of its organisations. It was commissioned as a private report, but it has been made public, and I have come to the conclusion that that has done no harm. Perhaps it is a very good thing that the Report has been brought to the light of day. I do not think that anyone comes too badly out of it, if we consider it in all its general references. The criticisms are probably well-founded; they give us a basis from which we can go forward.
1703 Although I have no authority to say so, I have reason to believe the E.I.U.'s recommendations, that at some future date they might be asked to offer suggestions as to how their findings might be implemented, may be accepted. We shall have to wait and see whether anything matures along those lines.
Only two matters have been raised on which we have previously heard criticisms from time to time in the House. I hope that towards the end of my speech I may make a reference to over-manning, and perhaps to restrictive practices, although I feel that today is an inappropriate occasion to argue matters of what, I hope, is now the past. There have been occasions in the House when I have felt a little irritated and annoyed at the inferences against the industry, on the grounds of what have been termed restrictive practices. I do not want to say anything about that today that would be in any way provocative, but rather to examine the situation as we find it. I hope that as a result some suggestions may be thought worthy of further consideration by the industry, with a view to maintaining intact all our present national dailies and Sunday newspapers.
So the House of Commons has entered upon a debate on a subject the complexity of which makes the minds of those of us who claim to know something about it boggle in its immensity, and I should be surprised if, at the end of the day, we are not more confused than we were when we began the debate, and even more surprised if perhaps one single suggestion of substantial practical value will have emerged.
I freely confess that my own feeling was one of frustration at not being able to offer to the House today much in the way of constructive suggestions. I have thought about this problem during the whole of the weekend, but how to find some practical suggestion that one can make that might help the industry has been extremely difficult. I have examined with meticulous care and over many hours suggestions from various sources as to how the threatened national dailies and Sundays may be assisted in their struggle for survival. The conclusion I have come to is two-fold.
The first is that, if the public really want a choice of daily newspapers, they 1704 must be prepared to pay the economic price—and in this I gather that I am probably in disagreement with some of my colleagues. I am talking now in terms of all newspapers and am not discriminating, bearing in mind the reactions that will arise. But I repeat that the public must be prepared to pay the economic price and to meet the costs of production.
Secondly, the Government should set an example through their own Departments in the fair distribution of their informative advertisements, by which I mean those advertisements which are required to be put in the Press for many and varied reasons and which it is desired should reach all members of the community, irrespective of which paper they read. I will return to this point later because, under the present circumstances of the purchasing of newspapers, this is where the crunch comes.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Surely the advisers to the various Government Departments choose the newspapers which are the most economic to reach the people they are trying to reach.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I have said that I will come back to this point later. If we were to enter into argument now as to what happens if one does this or that, I am certain that we could spend the whole afternoon arguing the economics of newspapers not only in relation to production costs but in relation to distribution of advertising and revenue from advertising and so on. However, we cannot go into detail, with the best intentions in the world. We can only generalise. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) appreciates full well what I am trying to say, for I know his capacity well.
I commend the E.I.U. Report to the reading of every hon. Member. In Questions in the House concerning the Press, the innuendoes and inferences often directed against the trade unions, although some of them have had substance, have in most cases been shown to be without foundation or at least grossly misleading. The Report is critical of management as it is of the unions. But the commendable thing is that the industry itself commissioned the Report to try to discover how efficiency could be increased—and no other industry in the country has had 1705 either the will or the courage to do just that. The Report was intended to be a critical survey of efficiency and production in the industry. The importance of the Report is that it provides us with an opportunity to pursue the proposals which have been made and this I am able to say the industry is in fact doing.
Provincial newspapers were not examined in the Report, but they have themselves already set up a committee to study productivity and efficiency and that committee is operating already. So we are trying to do something with the provincial newspapers as well as the nationals. I suggest to the House that it is unique for a union to suggest to its employers that such inquiries should be made. The papers concerned are the provincial dailies, the provincial weeklies and the London suburbans. The inquiries are now going ahead.
The House is indebted also to the Cameron Committee for the immense amount of time which it gave and the speed with which it produced its Report following its inquiry into the industry. It conducted the inquiry with speed and urgency and with depth and thoroughness in probing an extremely delicate aspect of the manning of machines arising from the introduction of the modern web offset printing technique.
Arising out of this, I should like to make two observations. The first is that, while the Report is not acceptable—and this has to be understood—to all the unions involved in newspaper and magazine production, it may have provided the bases, or perhaps I may say the guide lines, for future manning arrangements for this extremely modern and almost revolutionary printing process. Secondly, and perhaps more important, I doubt very much whether any other industry has undergone so much rapid and revolutionary change in its production processes as the newspaper industry during my nearly 50 years' connection with it.
I am staggered when people talk about technical and automatic advance in the industry. They have been a continuing process all the years I have had anything to do with newspapers. But the consequences have been causing quite an amount of trouble. One consequence of this tremendous revolution in printing processes is that the lines of demarcation 1706 are inevitable in such circumstances and under present conditions. But today, when we are genuinely and earnestly concerned with the future of the British Press, it would be disastrous were this debate to degenerate into nothing more than an inquiry into the so-called or alleged restrictive practices within the newspaper industry. I want to eschew such a course myself and I hope that I shall not be provoked by challenges from other quarters. If I am, I shall hit back hard.
I say that for two reasons. The first is that I do not want to introduce matters which concern the unions themselves. It is their pigeon to resolve those, and I think that they will. My second reason is that I know that all the unions in the industry are acutely conscious of their part in the supreme endeavours required to save from extinction the four national newspapers which are now said to be in grave financial difficulties. That is understandable. After all, it is the bread and butter of our members, and it must be a matter of serious concern to us as a union.
I have read most of the speeches made on this subject in another place on 25th January. They were, as one would expect, knowledgeable and informative. But, with few exceptions, they were critical without being constructive. That is why I fear that very little of constructive value will come out of this debate. The complexities of the industry are so great, and, in the main, most hon. Members do not understand those complexities. Therefore, I cannot see how it will be possible to make any really constructive suggestions about how relations may be improved.
I cannot imagine that the House of Commons can subscribe to the doctrine that "the intense gloom", as it was called, produced by the publication of the E.I.U. Report should not be taken seriously. That was one of the observations made in another place by a very great friend of mine, with whom I may have to square myself later. I suggest that it is just the reverse. As we have been reminded, the investigation was commissioned and paid for by both sides of the industry, and it cost a tremendous amount of money. I suggest that we should take this Report very seriously. It is not something which can be dismissed out of hand. It has to be really looked at.
1707 I should like to interpose at this point to read from the first paragraph of the conclusions in the E.I.U. Report, which says:In these conclusions and comments we itemise the main problems which we believe are facing the industry. As we stated in the Introduction to this Part of our report we do not attempt to suggest solutions to these problems, as to do so would be to go far beyond our brief. We would, however, be pleased to submit suggestions for the consideration of the Joint Board if we are invited to do so.One is, of course, hoping that this offer of further advice from the E.I.U. will in due course be accepted.
The solutions to the problems, which its investigations into the conduct of the industry have revealed, must be found by the industry itself. That may prove to be a very valuable exercise, but, in the meantime, and before the specialists can get to work, a little first aid may be invaluable. While the industry itself is trying to find solutions to the problems which confront it, the "kiss of life"—to put it colloquially—to help the patients to keep breathing in the meantime may be invaluable.
This is where I wanted to get back to the question of advertising. In one sense this has been done. The Guardian has, for the time being, at any rate, been saved and its management has paid unstinted tribute to the much maligned trade unions involved. Few, if any, people in this country would like to see The Guardian die, and I am numbered among those people. I regard The Guardian as being a fine quality paper, but in the interests of the free Press, and of our democracy, there are other papers, not considered to be in "quality street", which this House would wish to see sustained. There is the Sunday Citizen.
I make no apology for mentioning the Sunday Citizen. It is not a popular paper, but it is the bible of some of its readers. Twice in recent years—I hope the House will take note of this—the trade unions have co-operated with the Sunday Citizen in order to try to preserve its existence. The trade unions are always ready to talk these matters over with managements.
I am not a Communist—most people would consider me to be far removed from supporting that particular political ideology—but one must be impressed 1708 with the loyalty of the readership of the Morning Star, and with the sacrifices which readers of the original Daily Worker, now the Morning Star, have made in order to keep that paper afloat.
It is true that it is not part of the State's duty, in my opinion, at any rate, to subsidise struggling or dying newspapers, but we should at least insist that the State is fair to them. It may be understandable but deplorable that advertising contractors, and probably their clients, boycott the two papers I have mentioned. Advertising has been in the past, and I suppose still is, the life blood of the Press under present economic conditions. It accounted, in the inter-war years, for what one noble Press lord described as "the lush days" of advertising. He said:Those were the lush days. Wages and salaries were high, sales were high, advertising abundant. Why not agree to the extra shilling, or the extra five-minute "blow" on the shift? After all, anything is better than a shut down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 25th January 1967; Vol. 279, c. 544.]Restrictive practices started, as I said, 40 or 50 years ago, when advertising revenue not only made millionaires, but also encouraged employers, who at that time were ready to pay any money and ready to suggest ways and means whereby the workers could legally claim additional payments. This has grown up in the industry for something over 50 years, and it is only now, when the industry has suffered loss of revenue in different ways, when they have been thrown back on their own resources, compelled to think in terms of running their businesses on economic lines, that they have suddenly started to shout about over-manning restrictive practices, and things of that kind.
Money was free in Fleet Street. It was free to the employers, the owners, and it was made just as free to the workers. We are now faced with a situation where those lush days have gone. T.V. advertising has seen to that.
I said that the Government should be fair to the weaker papers. All Government-sponsored advertising in the national Press should go to the weak as well as to the strong papers. Indeed, in giving it to only the strong, or what we call the mass circulation, papers it is only contributing to the financial strength of those papers and, in effect, assisting them 1709 to kill, to emasculate, or to otherwise destroy their weaker contemporaries. I am not suggesting that this is primarily a means of keeping such papers alive. The readers of papers like that have as much right as the readers of bigger papers to read in the papers of their own choice the pronouncements of Government Departments, which usually convey important information which it is considered that the public ought to know. That should be the basic argument and not that advertising should necessarily be given to them so that these papers can be sustained.
§ Mr. John Ryan (Uxbridge)
Does not my hon. Friend recognise that the function of Government advertising is normally extremely selective, that media selection is done on a rigorous basis and that any departure from that would be a subsidy, because it would not be done rationally and advertising would not be concentrated where it should be?
§ Mr. Wilkins
I have heard this argument before, but I am thinking very much in the terms of the advertising in which the Ministry of Social Security indulges from time to time when it wants to make known 'variations in benefit, or additional benefits or something like that. A great deal of advertising from Government Departments has a specific interest and I can well understand that if the Government are advertising situations in Government Departments of a specialist character, the advertisements will go into specialised channels, certain newspapers or magazines or whatever it might be. But I am thinking in terms of the advertisements such as we had recently from the Ministry of Social Security.
We all know what queries Members of Parliament receive about the rate rebate scheme, for example, and I think that what I have said should apply as much to local authority advertising as to Government advertising. We all know how many people tell us that they have never seen this or that information. They probably have not seen it if they have not read the newspapers in which the advertising has been placed.
§ Mr. Edelman
I should be very glad to hear my hon. Friend speak at great length on this subject. He used the word "boycott" as being used by Government Departments in respect of certain newspapers. Would he care to illustrate how that boycott operates and in what respects?
§ Mr. Wilkins
I was referring to the boycott which I believe to he practised by advertising contractors and, to some extent, by their clients.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I respect what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but the weakness of his argument is that most people take more than one newspaper, so that there is an overlap between newspapers. The job of what he calls the advertising contractor is to find the most economic means of spending the taxpayers' money, to reach the maximum number at the cheapest price.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I was making only a passing reference to what I said might be described as first-aid measures which could be taken by the Government. I am not asking the Government to subsidise newspapers, or to do anything of the kind. I am saying only that they could assist the weaker papers if only they were fair to them about the advertising which they place with the smaller circulation newspapers. I understand quite well that the national advertisers want to get the maximum benefit from their advertisements, which is why the mass circulation newspapers get the majority of advertising. That is one of the reasons why the News Chronicle went to the wall, and it is one of the reasons why other newspapers are going to the wall unless something is done. Generally speaking, this power resides with the advertising agencies. It resides to some extent with the clients, but the clients are often guided by the information or advice which they get from their agencies.
In other words—and this is the serious aspect of the matter—it is not really the readers who decide whether a newspaper shall die. It is the advertisers.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I do not want to be drawn. I am trying to keep myself as cool, calm and collected as I can. I 1711 would probably make a better speech if I allowed myself to be drawn.
This is the crux of the matter. It is the advertisers who decide where their advertisements should go and in effect, perhaps not deliberately—in some cases in the past it was deliberate, but at this time perhaps it is not—they decide whether newspapers shall live or die. That is why the News Chronicle with a circulation of 1,250,000 was dying, and that is why national newspapers with circulations of more than 2 million are now threatened with the possibility that they will die. That is the conclusive evidence to show how it comes about that these newspapers are likely to go out of existence.
I am aware of the suggestions for a levy on a sliding scale on the gross revenue from advertising, the proceeds to be returned in the form of a subsidy to help the smaller circulation newspapers or to help with the price of newsprint. As advertisers decide these matters at present, at first glance—and I emphasise that it is at first glance—this proposal appears to be attractive. Most newspapers depend for anything between 40 per cent. and 80 per cent. of their income on advertising and it may therefore be worth while to examine the possibilities in this proposal, although I confess to some doubts about its practicality.
Another suggestion is for a National Press Corporation. This has some attractions for me, although I must make it absolutely clear that I am not "sold" on the idea of State newspapers. I do not want to see State newspapers. However, the possibilities which I see in this proposal are plant and equipment being made available to smaller newspapers through such a corporation. This is the production corporation, the combined use of which might offer—I do not know—the possibility of economy in production costs. I do not know whether this would be practical as a possible solution, but it might be worth investigation.
I conclude with a reference to the over-manning about which we have heard so much, not only in this debate, but on previous occasions. Those who are highly critical of over-manning are completely unaware of the circumstances which often make it necessary. I said that my connection with newspapers went 1712 back over nearly 50 years. I have worked in provincial newspapers where anyone going into any of the various departments at certain times of the day would immediately come to the conclusion that they were over-manned. It would not have been true. I have already said that in the past the national dailies allowed staff to build up and I am not now dealing with that. A newspaper has to be over-manned, especially if it is in competition.
On a good many days in any year, and particularly on Saturdays, there have been occasions when I have had to work myself to a standstill to cope with the amount of work which had to be produced on edition time. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh, but to deal with six race meetings, all the cricket matches and all the soccer all at the same time in mid-August or late spring is an immense problem, and if hon. Members do not understand that, they do not know what happens in a newspaper office. A man can work and work and work.
There comes a moment when the paper has "gone to bed"—it might be only for an edition at mid-day or in the afternoon—and men stand about and there is what appears to be over-manning. In fact, it is only legitimate staffing of the departments involved.
I am not making excuses for proved over-manning, or what appears to be proved overmanning in the E.I.U. Report. The trade unions in the printing industry, those incorporated within the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, have already begun to talk to the N.P.A. about over-manning. Restrictive practices and over-manning will be overcome only when the trade unions can resolve their differences and become one union. My own union, the National Graphical Association, has accomplished four voluntary amalgamations within the past few years. It accepts and is working for, one industrial union in the printing trade. This will go a long way towards solving the difficulties which have beset the newspapers of the country during the last few years.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Neill Cooper-Key (Hastings)
I found myself in some disagreement with a great deal of what the hon. Member for 1713 Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) had to say, but I can assure him that he will not find any offensive reference in my remarks to restrictive practices, and I shall strive to make some constructive suggestions. My remarks will be concerned mostly with the E.I.U. Report. Associated Newspapers is mentioned in this survey and, as I am a director of that company, I must declare an interest.
It is somewhat surprising that we should be debating the Press so soon after the matter was raised in another place. Representatives of the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the unions are discussing this report, and it might have been more valuable to the House had we given them an opportunity to announce what action they were proposing to take. Clearly this is a valuable report and it is welcome insofar as it tells us quite a lot about our competitors which hitherto we only suspected.
Apart from the Monopolies Commission Report on The Times—Thomson Organisation merger, we now have four surveys on the Press. There was the Shawcross Report in 1962, the Cameron Report on the introduction of web-offset machines, the National Economic Council Report on the printing industry, and now Lord Devlin's E.I.U. Report. To some extent this Report merely underlines the problems applicable to many other industries, and in some cases to Departments in Whitehall.
We learn of the need to improve management quality, to install more efficient machinery and to save labour costs. On this last point we have received the hardest knocks—justifiably so, in my view. There is no denying that for a nation whose average production per man is so low, the waste of labour in the production of national papers is deplorable, if not scandalous. In 1962 Lord Shawcross's report referred to 34 per cent. over-manning in the industry. There is a much higher figure in the E.I.U. report, but because of the detail it is difficult to get down to the facts. The figure is much nearer 50 per cent.
In our group, the E.I.U. report estimates a possible saving in the production staff alone of £631,000 a year. That is an under-estimation of the figure which we have arrived at. All of us—directors, unions and management—must take some 1714 responsibility for this state of affairs which has developed over the years. What was the state of the industry over those years? It was a period of rising national readership and increasing revenues which could absorb the ever-mounting costs. Unions could scarcely be blamed for taking advantage of the situation which benefited their members. Even the strongest management would have avoided involving its paper in a strike and seeing its circulation scooped up by one of its competitors.
The N.P.A., like any other trade association, is only effective if unanimous. It has always been the hardest thing to get unanimity in the N.P.A.—harder even than to get the unions to abolish restrictive practices. One has only to look at the position in the United States newspaper industry to see the effect of stoppages. We have seen there the consequent closing of world renowned newspapers and resulting wide unemployment. Now we are paying the penalty for those lush years referred to by the hon. Member for Bristol, South.
The E.I.U. report points out only part of the problem. The present Government's economic policy, this long and unprecedented squeeze, has added enormously to the financial problems of the Press. Mention has already been made of the £5 million surcharge on newsprint which the industry has had to carry in the last two years. Lord Devlin's report drew attention to the superfluous staffing in newspaper administration and this is a problem which my company has been studying for many months in a wide programme of reorganisation.
In our case the report specifically refers to an absence of editorial representation on the board. This is miring. When I joined the board, as a non-executive director 23 years ago—and I never was anything else—there were two journalists on the board, one of whom was an editor. There has always been journalistic representation on the Board of Association Newspapers. Today we have two journalists, one of whom is a past chairman of the Press Council. The most important feature of the report to me is the emphasis on urgency and realism. For years there has been too much self-deception in some sections of the industry. This has led to several casualties.
1715 If newspapers are conducted for reasons of prestige without regard to profit, they will die sooner or later according to the length of the proprietor's pocket or the patience of the shareholders. If boards of directors persist in the closed mind that only newspapermen are qualified for management or executive appointments, they will have learned nothing from this Report, which is a sorry disclosure of swollen expenditures and staffs quite unacceptable to managements in other competitive industries. If unions at all levels are not prepared to forget the past and accept the mechanical and technical processes of the 1960s and 1970s, their members, and the sons of their members, will have to look for alternative employment.
Editors and journalists could take a more realistic attitude towards the effect of television and radio on newspaper readers. By the time that they get their mornings newspapers, readers have heard the headline news over the radio and seen the night before the latest topic discussed on television. It is understandable that journalists should get annoyed when they hear people say that it does not matter if a few more newspapers die. I share their annoyance. But I do not think that we should say that it is in the public interest, or in the interest of democracy, that such-and-such a number of newspapers should live. Surely freedom of choice is what democracy is about. If the public wish to withhold their pence from supporting certain newspapers, is not this their democratic privilege?
§ Mr. Ryan
The hon. Gentleman says that if the public want to pay their pence or withhold their pence from a newspaper, it is satisfactory for that newspaper to go out of business. But would he not agree that newspapers have gone out of business which had extremely large circulations, larger in some cases than comparable newspapers in the rest of Europe, and that the reason that they went out of business was dependence on advertising subsidy? Many of us would not share the hon. Gentleman's complacency.
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
There is a variety of reasons why newspapers go out of business. Lack of advertising revenue is one, and production and distribution costs is another. There is the question of the 1716 appeal of journalistic writing. All this must be taken into account. But there is no democratic reason, and certainly no national interest, why a certain number of newspapers should remain. The real threat to democracy is not in the diminishing number of newspapers run by private enterprise. The real threat will come if any Government is tempted to sponsor or subsidise any part of our national Press either directly or indirectly.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if monopoly led to only one newspaper or two newspapers, that also would be a danger? There is more than one danger in this situation.
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
The answer is this, and it is logical. If there were one newspaper left in this country, it would reflect the changing fashion of people's taste, and the reading public would prefer to spend their money on other interests. They would prefer to listen to the radio, to watch television or to take weekly papers.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman said that it would be wrong if newspapers received a subsidy directly or indirectly. Would he say whether Associated Newspapers including the Daily Mail, accept the Commonwealth Press Relief Rate Agreement and subsidy?
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
If the Government want to help national newspapers, they should return to a policy of sound finance and sane administration. A return to national confidence is all that we need to get the revenue in on the advertising side of the industry.
§ Mr. Roebuck
If it is the case, as the hon. Gentleman maintains, that the crisis which faces the Press and the reason why newspapers are closing is Government policy, will he explain why a large number of newspapers closed down during the 13 years in which the Conservatives were in power?
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
I did not say that. I said that there are certain contributory factors to the economic crisis in the newspaper industry and that the Government, by creating a prosperous climate in the country, could assist in curing it.
Fleet Street is full of rumours, and so is Westminster. Political fortunes vary, and so do those of the newspapers. Like other newspaper offices, our company is in the process of a good shake-up. We have exceptional resources of ability, good will and determination. I say to our friends in the Press that it would be a mistake to under-estimate the potential of our own national dailies.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Like the hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key), I have some connection with the Press. I have been a practising journalist for over 25 years. During the whole of that time I have been a member of the National Union of Journalists, and I remain so. Therefore, I have an interest to declare.
Perhaps it is appropriate that the concerns of those who engage in the editorial production of newspapers should be considered. The hon. Member properly referred to the anxieties felt throughout Fleet Street and in Westminster among those concerned with the Press about the possibility of closures and the likelihood, not only that newspapers will close, but that men and women who have devoted their working lives to the Press will find themselves deprived of their livelihood in a contracting industry. Consequently, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is unsuitable for this matter to be discussed in the House of Commons so soon after the debate in the House of Lords. It is a matter to which we should pay our attention.
I have been somewhat surprised at the deference which Fleet Street has shown to the findings in the E.I.U. Report. It is true that the Report was published on behalf of what I might call both sides of the industry. Nevertheless, some of its analyses—it is essentially an analysis rather than a prescription—should be scrutinised with great care before we ask those who produced it to make further recommendations about what should be done. I think that recommendations as to what should be done in respect of the Press, if anything should be done by the 1718 House, should certainly be for our consideration. It is not entirely a technical matter by any means.
The hon. Gentleman referred to overmanning in the industry. It is undoubtedly true that there is an overmanning, which, it has been suggested, adds up in cost to about £4½ million per year. On the other hand, this overmanning is not simply to be found in the machine shops. It is not simply to be found among the journalists. It is over-manning which can be found as much in board rooms. It is over-manning which can be found as much in management. The Report refers to the men who stand idle, the men who stand and wait, the men who have no jobs to do for half of their so-called working time. However, I believe, based on my own observation—I am sure that this is the experience of my hon. Friends who have been active in the newspaper industry—that, if an analysis were made of the time wasted by certain members of management, it would be found that there was at least an equal amount of time spent in waiting and hanging about.
§ Sir N. Cooper-Key
I referred to the reorganisation which is going on in Fleet Street in every office to reduce the surplus management staffs.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am glad to hear that from the hon. Gentleman. I hope, when the scrutiny is made, if there is to be retrenchment in the industry, that the burden of that retrenchment will not be laid on the shoulders of those who are working in the industry, but that the scrutiny will be applied to the board rooms and to those who in the past have drawn vast sums from the industry which have not been ploughed back into the industry to make the technological improvements which have been recommended by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
I believe that the Press is an essential part of our democracy. I have no hesitation in repeating that cliché, because it is certain that, if the presumptions of the Executive, which increase in number every week, and the decline of the Legislature in respect of the Executive are to be arrested, then more than ever is it necessary for us to have a strong and varied Press. If we find that organs of opinion which are capable of criticising 1719 the Government and acting as a secondary restraint are closed down, then indeed it will certainly be a bad day for democracy.
We have seen in past years how great newspapers like the News Chronicle and the Daily Herald have died or been submerged. Today the neurosis which is sweeping through Fleet Street is one which is not conditioned by the fact that newspapers today are going through a difficult period because of a contraction of advertising revenue. The neurosis is deep-seated. It goes back to the days when overnight great newspapers, with circulations in some cases of over one million, suddenly found that they had to close down, and men who had been apprentices or who had been trained in the craft of journalism suddenly found that they were deprived of a job and that their families had little to look forward to.
Some proprietors in recent days have been hysterical about these developments, as hysterical perhaps as anybody whose immediate livelihood was at risk. Yet I think that we should rid our minds of sentimentality in approaching this subject. I believe that a newspaper deserves to live only as long as its services are demanded by an adequate public willing to pay for them. I can understand a small newspaper appealing for financial assistance from friends and private bankers. It is reasonable that a campaigning newspaper or journal which is fighting for a cause should turn to its friends and seek assistance.
I have absolutely no sympathy with those who go looking for Government subventions, either as cash payments or in the form of redistributed levies. I see absolutely no reason why there should be a levy, for example, on advertising revenue in order to penalise those whose dynamism and enterprise create the conditions in which it is possible to have a viable and self-supporting Press.
I do not believe in a kept Press, whether the Press is kept by cash payment or by indirect subsidy. Therefore, the problem which we have to consider and which we should consider is how we can have a viable and independent Press. I believe that any other form of 1720 support is neither dignified nor economically justified, nor, above all, politically desirable.
I know that from time to time it has been the custom to compare the newspaper industry with the film industry and to suggest that, just as the film industry has the Eady levy, for example, to support it, so it might be possible to find some solution by which the newspaper industry was sustained by a levy, either on advertising or in some other form. I do not believe that the newspaper industry and its purpose is in any way comparable with the film industry or the purposes for which the film industry exists. The film industry at its best is an art form. More often, it is an entertainment machine. Sometimes, even, it can be a source of foreign currency. The film industry can receive support—Governmental support, support from the Treasury, or from wherever it may be—without losing its particular function in our society.
I believe that the Press is in an entirely different position. Once the Press depends upon Government financial hand-outs it is lost to democracy. It becomes yet another pillar of the new establishment, answerable not to its readers, not even to its advertisers, but to the Ministers of the day.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his speech on the occasion of the Granada prize distribution, uttered a caveat against any form of Government intervention. If anyone asks why that caveat should be uttered, the answer is perfectly clear. Once there is any kind of subsidy which is capable of being withdrawn, then the Press falls into the hands of the Government of the day. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) referred to subsidised telegraphic rates for the Commonwealth—I believe I am right in saying that that is what he referred to. That is a subsidy, but a comprehensive and general subsidy applicable to all those who are capable of using it is entirely different from subsidies which are offered in a way which might lead to discrimination.
If there are subsidies which are capable of being discriminatory, then the Press is put into the hands of the arbitrary decisions of the Government of the 1721 day. No newspaper is entitled to say, "We are a good newspaper and therefore we have a right to live". I do not believe that that is necessarily so. I do not believe that a newspaper can say, "We are a Liberal newspaper with a long tradition and therefore we have a right to live", any more than a newspaper has a right to say, "We are a Conservative newspaper with a long tradition. Therefore, we, too, have a right to live". A newspaper should justify itself every day. That is why I personally shed no tears at all when The Times was taken over by Lord Thomson.
The Times, a great newspaper, with a long tradition, although a varied tradition, has, I believe, to justify itself, as much as any other newspaper. In the post-war era, The Times has been an admirably well-behaved and highly civilised paper which, unfortunately, did not attract enough readers. Consequently, the newspaper fell at risk. But any middle-aged person will recall the wholly pernicious part played by The Times before the war during the period of appeasement, its cruel indifference to the fate of Czechoslovakia, its sycophancy to Hitler, and the part played when Mr. Dawson himself was an institution.
I recall this potted history of The Times before the war, not in order to decry it as a newspaper, but merely to say that for any newspaper to claim to be an institution and, therefore, by that fact, to have the right to live is something which is invalid. I believe that every newspaper has to justify itself.
Let me turn briefly to the E.I.U. Report. The Unit's terms of reference were to report on the industry, and I think that its comprehensive criticisms of managements and trade unions must carry weight. Undoubtedly, there is overmanning in the industry. That has been referred to already, and it is the responsibility of managements and trade unions to get together to examine the areas indicated by the Unit's Report where it is possible to cut down overmanning and to save money in the interests of those newspapers.
There are also other charges which have to be considered very carefully. There is the charge that men stand about idly and overpaid. Clearly, it is a matter for the unions concerned to discuss those charges—and refute them if they are in- 1722 valid—with managements to see whether the alleged over-payments are an undue burden on the newspapers.
There is another reference to which I might refer, because it was not widely quoted in the general Press. I do so because, in a sense, it is a curiosity. One of the reasons why I do not accept the report as holy writ is that it is alleged that in the machine shops of newspapers there is what is called "over-drinking". The report says:We understand that there is less drunkenness in Newspapers than there used to be. This may well be so, but drunkenness was still seen and was such as would never be tolerated in other industries. S.O.G.A.T. chapels in particular talked about the dangerous conditions in which they worked, but we saw the same men performing the dangerous jobs when they had had too much to drink.In my own personal experience of the newspaper industry, I have not observed any such thing, and I believe that those who are engaged in management in the industry would also have something to say if they saw a drunken man minding a machine. That paragraph introduces a certain scepticism into my own reactions to the Report of the Unit. It raises certain doubts in my mind about whether the Report as a whole should be treated with the deference which it has received, even from the Press itself.
The Unit talks of the wage structure as a jungle. That may be so, but, once again, here is a matter upon which we in this House cannot pronounce. If there are wage complications within the industry, that is a matter which lies to be settled with the common sense of the managements and the trade unions concerned.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great care and interest. Would he not agree that very much of the same sorts of strictures about overmanning and wastage of labour were made years ago in the Shawcross Report and that, so far, there has been no sign that either unions or managements were prepared to tackle them on a serious level? Why should it be thought that they are prepared to now?
§ Mr. Edelman
Although the truth may take a long time to penetrate, eventually the moment of penetration arrives. There comes the moment of truth, when people 1723 recognise that they have to examine the charges to see if they are serious and if they are prepared to take whatever action is appropriate. It may be that the moment has come when the newspapers, under the thrusting and merciless drive of those who are seeking to take over more and more newspapers, closing down others on the way, recognise that there is a common interest between those concerned with printing the newspapers, those concerned with writing them, and those concerned with publishing them.
Perhaps the moment has come now, when we are debating the matter, when we are not only concerned with reports of this kind but when more realistically the men and women whose livelihoods are involved are deeply concerned about what is happening.
Although we have been talking about the economic difficulties which beset newspapers, in the long run the important thing, which is relevant to the control of newspapers as well, is the personality of the newspaper. But what is important is the editorial independence which a newspaper has.
The functions of a newspaper, even if they were multiplied and varied, would not be fulfilled unless, within the newspaper itself, there was freedom of expression and the editor himself had the right to make decisions independently and free from the pressures of the financial control.
Today, I do not think that the Press is necessarily in any worse state than it was in the 1920s or 1930s. In many respects, it is very much more independent and, in some ways, even more varied than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. I have spoken before about The Times. In the 1930s, it was owned by a man who was literally mad. He threatened to shoot his doctor and the friends who came to take him home from France—
§ Mr. Edelman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is what I was trying to indicate. I meant to refer to the 1920s. In the years between, newspapers have often fallen under the control of men whose arbitrariness and wilfulness and whose capacity for interference in the affairs of newspapers was such that, did it exist today, there would be a justified outcry against them.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)
Is my hon. Friend saying that not only are madmen likely to be among people who own newspapers, but that madmen among Government decision-makers cannot be relied upon? Is he saying that, on the one hand, the arbitrary nature of government cannot be relied upon, and therefore the Government must not support newspapers in any way and, on the other hand, that the same sort of situation can arise with newspapers and their proprietors? If so, that is an extraordinary statement.
§ Mr. Edelman
For all my hon. Friend's emphasis, I cannot agree with him. What matters ultimately is the working journalist, the editor of a newspaper, and his capacity for asserting the right of a newspaper to express opinions freely. It is he, in his relations with the proprietor, who is the man in charge of the flame of journalism. He has the responsibility. I believe that his task would be infinitely more complicated if, in addition to dealing with his proprietor, he had to deal with a Government who were handing out subsidies and were prepared to withdraw them according to their own arbitrary and wilful decision.
To sum up, I do not believe that any newspaper has the right to live if the public does not want it, but it is the duty both of proprietors and journalists to try to create such newspapers that the public wants them and so that newspapers become viable.
I do not think that the Government should subsidise the Press in any form, directly or indirectly. I believe in efficiency in the industry and the need for management and workers to re-examine the difficulties in what is, after all, their industry. In order to do that, it is necessary to cut out restrictions that hamper production.
Here I would say in passing, referring to the passage which I quoted before from the E.I.U. Report, that the effect of restrictive practices has been much exaggerated in all these discussions, and reaffirm that the Unit's Report says that restrictive practices in themselves would not be enough to cause the collapse of a newspaper. I believe that ultimately there is no formula for success in newspapers other than good editing and good journalism, and I hope that this debate will be a reminder that, for all the streamlining 1725 of techniques, what matters in the long run are the men who run the industry.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I fully agree with a large part of the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), but I think that he was a little unfair, and that he was rightly corrected by one of his hon. Friends, in his reference to The Times being owned by a madman in the 1920s. The hon. Gentleman gave the impression that that was the case throughout that period, instead of making it clear that it was for only a limited period of time that Lord Northcliffe was there, whether he was mad or not.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's reference to the peculiar part of the Report which refers to drunkenness. I have endless recollections of tea and coffee trolleys going up and down the office at inconvenient times, but I do not remember any sign of the other.
I must declare only a very small interest. My major interest in newspapers is in the past, but I worked in a number of offices. Indeed, I worked for a time as a Lobby Correspondent here, and a most enjoyable time it was. As I stood in the Lobby I learned to recognise the expressions on the faces of hon. Members as they came out of the Chamber. I learned to recognise those Members who pretended that they did not want to be approached when they really did, and also those Members of the Labour Party who, coming down from their occasionally hectic meetings, were anxious to give information to the Press, but my memory of my own party's committees since I have been a Member, has been hazy, and I cannot recollect anything about them.
I had hoped a few weeks ago possibly to be able to declare a larger interest than I can at the moment, but I should like to take up one point which was made earlier, namely, that the Monopolies Commission takes a long time to make a report. Having appeared before it twice in the autumn, and having had one or two talks with its extremely able and hardworking secretary, I can appreciate in a way that I would not otherwise have done the tremendous amount of work which is necessary, and what a lengthy job it is to compile all the evidence that is put in its 1726 reports, quite apart from the actual findings.
I particularly enjoyed one day when, it so happened, the Press discovered that certain of my colleagues and I were to be interviewed by the Commission. We were asked to inquire whether we could be photographed within the precincts of the Commission's office. Inquiries were put through, and the answer was that so long as it was in the hall it was all right. By the time we got there some photographs had already been taken. The result was that in at least one national paper there was a photograph, not of us, but of the Monopolies Commission itself in action. I am delighted that it received that publicity, which it fully deserves. I shall not go into detail about its findings.
I think that we all agree that since the war a far greater interest in the Press has been taken by outsiders than ever before, and mention has been rightly made this evening of the lush period which newspapers enjoyed. This goes back very largely to the period after the war when we had newsprint rationing. The rationing continued for many years, which meant that advertisers could not put all the advertisements they wished in papers of their own choosing and had to spread them around. This gave a sort of subsidy to the weaker papers and enabled them to carry on for a longish period without realising how weak they were basically. Then, as newsprint became more and more free, in the sense of being able to buy it, certain papers, both national and local, found their production costs rising and their circulation and advertisement revenue falling.
The same period saw the rise of television as a competitor. This afternoon emphasis has been laid not only on the economic side, from the point of view of commercial television, but also on the editorial side. Sport is perhaps the subject which comes most immediately to mind. We have probably forgotten that it is only during the last 10 or 11 years that B.B.C. sound broadcasts have given the odds of the horses when giving the results of the first three in each race. As the 1950s advanced, newspapers, particularly in the provinces, found it more and more difficult to compete with television as the sporting coverage of both B.B.C. and commercial television became that much stronger.
1727 The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) commented on the fact that I was smiling at the point he made about a newspaper office on a Saturday afternoon. I was smiling because I had intended to make the same point as an example of one of the problems facing newspapers today. One of the great joys of newspaper production a few years ago was the Saturday afternoon football paper, when a person tried desperately to get his paper out a few moments earlier than that of his rivals, or just in time to catch the crowds before they went home, not forgetting that he had to show all the results, and a full report of the local match, the racing results, the football league tables, and, probably most important of all, the pools tables. Now, as we know, anybody sitting at home on Saturday afternoon can see all these things on his television set far quicker than a newspaper can get them to him.
The same thing applies to some of our work here. Only a few years ago almost the first opportunity that a member of the public had of knowing what the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement was the quickly produced evening paper. Now, whenever the Chancellor makes a Budget statement—and recently he has been making more than the average one a year—both the B.B.C. and commercial television have studios full of journalists who specialise in economics, and dons and financial experts ready to comment on what the Chancellor has decided to do, long before the papers are out, and that evening the Chancellor gives an interview and there is more expert opinion. The chances of selling extra newspapers the following morning are virtually nil, because people have had a surfeit of what they can learn. Obviously we cannot put the clock back. Many of the reasons why people had to buy newspapers no longer apply.
There is, however, one subject in which there is now much greater interest, namely, the City. There is now much more interest than there used to be in stocks and shares, in unit trusts, and so on, and I shall be very surprised if, during the next weeks and months, we do not see more space given to these in The Times.
What about the Sunday papers? They really have come into their own during 1728 the past few years. One of the most satisfying things which an examination of newspapers reveals is the rise in the circulation of the quality Press. Over the past ten years there has been an increase of 1½ million copies. The Sunday Telegraph, which started only a few years ago, now has a quite reasonable circulation, and the Sunday Times and the Observer are both going steadily ahead.
A few weeks ago I took a personal interest in the award to the Sunday Times, which the Prime Minister presented on behalf of Granada, as the newspaper of the decade. I had a particular interest in that, because more than one-third of that period came under the previous ownership, and it is right to say that in the three years from 1956 to 1959, the period which saw the first separate weekly review section of a Sunday newspaper in this country, the rise in circulation was unique. Since then it has risen steadily and the paper now has another unique feature—or, at least, it was unique when it started—a colour magazine supplement. I hope that "one of the world's great newspapers", as it was called in those days, still merits that description.
Much has been said about restrictive practices by trade unionists. None of us can deny that they exist. The pity is that, as in so many other industries, the reasons for them no longer apply. Once they are there they are difficult to get rid of. None of us would deny that there is overmanning in many newspaper departments. The hon. Member for Bristol, South referred to Saturday afternoons. That is the time when large editions must be brought out in a very short time.
Nobody in the newspaper world would deny that in publishing departments, in particular, far more people are employed than need to be employed. It is easy to say that, but it is not so easy to find a solution, especially at the moment when so many new methods of printing are becoming available and when unemployment is so high. It is not surprising that the unions tends to be suspicious. But I wish that over a long period the various unions had been much more inclined to admit more trainees into membership.
In this debate we must look to the future. The work of the 1961 Press Commission, which led to the setting-up of the joint board and, in its turn, to the 1729 production of the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, has been of tremendous importance. I hope that some time, arising out of the Report we shall see the emergence of one trade union representing all the present trade unions in the industry. That would be the best possible step forward. This can be achieved in due course, with good will on both sides.
One category of newspaper that I am concerned with is the small weekly. It does not have much money, and in many cases it is without the enterprise or initiative of the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), who owns a newspaper in Banbury. He has had the chance and has used it very well, but many weekly newspapers throughout the country have not had the opportunities which his newspaper has had. Many of them are being quietly swallowed up by large groups. The Monopolies Commission is not concerned. On the other hand, it is very difficult for such newspapers to carry on with the introduction of web offset, which they cannot afford on their own.
I should like to see a greater joining together of newspapers—not in terms of buying other newspapers up, but of forming groups so that they linked their printing arrangements, and so on. Much could be achieved in that way. Talks which I had in November and December last with some independent newspapers confirm my belief. There might also be some way in which the Government could subsidise these newspapers. It is not easy to see how this can be done, however, and we must make sure that subsidies are not discriminatory. I should like to see a greater interest in this subject on the part of local newspapers.
Since the war we have had two Royal Commissions on the Press: we have had the Prices and Incomes Board's Report, the Cameron Inquiry, the Monopolies Commissions Report, and now the E.I.U. Report. A few days ago there was a debate on the Press in another place. After all this, the time has come for the industry itself to digest all the suggestions put forward and to see whether it can act on those suggestions.
It is easy to pick holes in the E.I.U. Report and to say that one newspaper has more foreign correspondents and reporters than another. That means nothing in itself. On the other hand, we should take note of the emphasis placed 1730 on the need for training both management and trade unionists. The Report's reference to the number of trade unions on the production floor; its description of the whole wage structure as a jungle, with the basic wage bearing no resemblance to the take-home pay—all these are vital factors which, until now, were known to far too few people. Now they have been brought into the open.
Some newspapers may close or amalgamate, but the chances of the weak ones will be all the better as a result of the reports that have been published and the interest raised in the problems of the industry. I hope that after today's debate we can leave the Press to put its house in order in its own way. I suggest that the light of publicity should be darkened while those who are responsible for this great industry are left to tackle its problems. As one who has been brought up in newspapers I confidently believe that this will be done.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
I declare my interest at the outset—not as a newspaper proprietor or a working journalist but as a member of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades; one of the non-craft members of the printing industry. Not only in this House but in a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Savoy Hotel we have heard references to restrictive practices in the industry. I wish that my right hon. Friend had made his speech in front of a printing audience—to the secretaries of the printing unions.
Some analogies can be drawn between restrictive practices in the printing industry and similar practices in this place. Here we call them time-honoured traditions. We do not have overmanning: we have undermanning. We get counted out. Some people might consider it to be a national scandal that our Legislature can be counted out because we can muster less than 40 Members out of 630.
In the past dozen years the printing industry has had several microscopes brought to bear upon it. There have been two Royal Commissions, the E.I.U. Report, and the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board. Generally speaking, most of these reports say that the unions are not the cause of the trouble. I have found that in this debate I disagree more 1731 with my hon. Friends than I do with hon. Members opposite. Some members of my party will never forgive me for saying that. We have been talking about management-worker relationships. The first time some News Chronicle workers knew that it was not being published the next morning was when they arrived at work. Then people wonder why the workers express their fears, mistrust and suspicions.
On the manning side of the News Chronicle there was an agreement with the management five or six years previous to the close-down. The agreement was negotiated by an independent consultant, of whom the unions said, "We will accept his judgment and arbitration in this matter in respect of the manning of machines." This was done, and we can say that at least in that case the unions were completely blameless.
People have asked what the unions have done in connection with overmanning and restrictive practices. One Scottish Member said that the unions did not seem to be doing anything about these problems. In the Daily Mirror in the past six or seven years the staffing in the machine and publishing rooms has been cut by 1,000. They did that as a result of agreement between the management and the unions. On the basis of trust and security there can be built up a framework of good relationships.
It is all very well for hon. Members to quote this or that report and for members of the Royal Commission under Lord Shawcross to walk around the machine room in a printing works and ask, "Why is that man doing nothing?", but they do not realise the deplorable conditions in which these men must work for 30 or 40 years of their lives. Sometimes the noise is intolerable, almost reaching the pitch of supersonic sound. They must also put up with ink and the paper dust. The E.I.U. Report more or less dismisses all this simply because the men are quite well paid, but consider the social side of their lives that they lose. Men working for the News of the World, Observer or Sunday Times spend 48 or 49 weeks every year without being home on Saturday night, missing the family lives which most other people enjoy.
The men who work in the newspaper industry are away from home for practi- 1732 cally every night of the year, apart from holidays. Many of them begin work at 7.30 p.m. but must leave home at 6 p.m. They probably do not arrive home until 7.30 the following morning. They hardly see their children and while it might be said that they do this from choice—and, to some extent, that is true—we must take account of the conditions in which they work and the part of their lives spent working when other people are enjoying themselves.
I wish that something could be done about another problem facing the Press; that of cheque-book journalism. A young lady named Christine Keeler was able to earn, as a result of a series of articles over two or three weeks, £23,000. It would take one of the members of the printing unions 10 years, working under the conditions I have described and being away from home three or four nights a week, to receive that sort of money. The balance is wrong, and I trust that when considering this matter, hon. Members will consider the expenditure of newspapers on both sides of the scale.
What else have the unions been doing in terms of amalgamation? One would think from some of the comments made in this House in another place that nothing has been done. The printing industry has in the past 12 to 15 years set an example to industry generally by showing what can be done in terms of union-management relations. At the beginning of that period there were 16 unions in the printing industry. Now there are six and there is the possibility of an amalgamation within the next couple of years of two major unions, giving us the almost ideal position of one trade union.
One hon. Member pointed out that Lord Cameron stated in his Report that there should be only one union in the printing industry. My union said that to the Royal Commission in 1961–62. Since then two of the largest unions, the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants and the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Workers, have amalgamated to produce the biggest union. I am not today speaking specifically on behalf of my union, but I assure the House that the printing industry unions generally have made major advances in such things as training men for the future. In the last couple of 1733 years more than 300 men have taken courses in computer appreciation organised by S.O.G.A.T. This shows that these bodies are not lagging behind but are, by their own efforts and without subsidy from the employers, facing the future to ensure that they are up to date, since they realise that changes must come about.
In 1949 the Royal Commission on the Press stated that there was really no danger to the Press. Since then at least four Sunday newspapers have disappeared, along with the News Chronicle and the Star. In this debate pious hopes have been expressed about the future and many hon. Members have said, "Leave the newspaper industry to itself". My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech at the Savoy Hotel that roughly the present number of newspapers was needed. How far will the Government allow the diminution of the Press to go before they make a move?
Make no mistake, Lord Thomson did not merge the Sunday Times and The Times for any high social purpose. He intends them to make money, but the possibility of them making money against The Guardian or the Daily Telegraph must be considered along with the possibility of war being declared among the three of them.
I believe that there should be some Government subsidy and I do not see why there should be anything wrong with this suggestion. There are already Government subsidies for the arts and the theatre and, while some hon. Members want the Royal Shakespeare Company to take off "US", a subsidy is provided, just as it is for music. Despite that, not all of my hon. Friends would expect all of our subsidised orchestras to play the Red Flag at the end of every performance. We also subsidise sport. England recently won the World Cup and the present Government gave £500,000 in subsidy for that. But we do not expect to see five left wingers in the forward line. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is subsidised—[Interruption.]—at least in terms of advertising—or at least the newspaper in which he has an interest is subsidised by A.B.C. Television, the Daily Mirror and Joanna Southcott's box; although I do not expect 1734 my hon. Friend to agree with all the views of those people.
When hon. Members say that to provide a subsidy to the Press would subvert and erode the freedom of the Press, they must consider what freedom newspaper editors have at present. After all, the Daily Mail has lost eight editors since the war. Is that freedom? We tend to under-rate the profession of journalism and the tasks of editors by speaking in the way we do.
The Government already give subsidies by way of advertising. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) intervened earlier to say that it was done on an advertising agency basis. But the Government are not selling detergents, cigarettes or beer. They are notifying people of certain changes of benefits. They are not asking people to buy anything and, as such, everybody should have the opportunity of being so notified.
I put some Questions down last week on this subject. I am not mentioning that merely because the Sunday Citizen did not mention it in the brief which it sent to every hon. Member, but because we should look at some of the expenditure by the Government on advertising. Take the years 1963–64 and 1965–66 and consider how much was spent with various newspapers with varying circulations. The Sunday Mirror, with a circulation of over five million, received £193,000 in 1965–66. The Sunday Times, with a circulation of 1,360,000, received just under £200,000. The poor old Morning Star, with a circulation of 58,000—and possibly more readers—got nothing. I cannot understand this. Whether or not I agree with the political views of the readers of the Morning Star, they have every right to read the advertisements put out by the Government and to be notified about such things as rent legislation, pensions and the virtues of the Armed Forces, even if they will not join the Army—which, being readers of the Morning Star, they would probably not wish to do. Nevertheless they should have some form of notification. The Sunday Citizen, with 221,000 circulation, got £3,590 in 1965–66.
I just cannot understand why we should be working this out on an advertising agency basis. The Government are just as much subsidising by advertising the big circulation newspapers and making 1735 the rich richer and the poor poorer. I would not be against some sort of levy. There are all sorts of ideas being floated. Nor would I be against changes in the advertising policy of the Government.
§ Mr. Murray
The Daily Express earned nearly double, but its circulation was about static. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), who is not short of a copper or two, said that he would not be against putting up the price of newspapers. I want to encourage farm workers and lowly paid manual workers to read The Guardian.
§ Mr. Murray
Who said "Why"? I believe the people of this country should have the widest possible source of information. I believe they should be encouraged to read as many newspapers as possible. Working on the calculation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, this would mean that if a person wanted to be well-informed—and there is no reason why he should not, although he need not be a newspaper proprietor—he would have to pay 14s. or 15s. a week to get fair newspaper coverage. We are trying to spend money on education, but then we are saying to people, "When you have received an education you will be able to buy one newspaper only ", and in some cases that may have to be the cheapest newspaper.
The Government have to look at this problem very seriously. In both Houses so far there has been a weak-kneed approach to the whole business. Why are they afraid of the Press? For all their politics—and we must all agree that most of the Press is geared to the Right-wing—newspapers have not made much difference to the political complexion of this House. We cannot go on saying, "We will have another look at the problem if another newspaper disappears" and then waiting for another to go, and then another.
1736 The E.I.U. says that within the next five years, if nothing is done, four more newspapers will disappear. If we take that to its logical conclusion, in 10 years we shall be left with perhaps only three newspapers. I would not care about the politics of those newspapers, but I care that we should have as much dissemination of news as possible. I hope that tonight the Government will say something about it.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
All of us, on both sides of the House, I am sure welcome this debate on the Press because we realise that the Press nationally and provincially plays a vital part in the life of citizens. For that reason I, and I think all hon. Members, welcome the statement by the President of the Board of Trade announcing his policy of non-interference with the Press. This is vital.
It has been pointed out in most speeches so far that numerous investigations have been made into the Press in the last six or seven years. We have had the Shawcross Royal Commission, the Cameron inquiry, the Monopolies Commission and now the E.I.U. The strange thing is that all have come forward with the same information and have revealed the same malaise which has led to the present situation, yet nothing has been done about it. I am more hopeful now because this last Report, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) said, was a joint effort between the unions and management. Not only did they pay for it themselves, which is very laudable, but they had the courage, although the Report was made for private consumption, to publish it for the whole world to read. This is very encouraging. One can only hope that the parlous and grievous state revealed in all these Reports will be gradually put right.
The first culprit when we look at all these Reports must be seen to be management—weak, inefficient management. That stands out a mile in the whole newspaper world. Managements are primarily at fault. Because of the weakness of management, the unions have been allowed to get away with so much in restrictive practices, demarcation disputes and the rest. I do not blame the 1737 unions, but I blame the managements for not facing earlier the real problem of the newspapers. There is nothing new in the present situation except the fact that the economic policy of the Government has led to a great decrease in advertising expenditure, a catastrophic decrease in the last quarter of 1966.
This suddenly highlighted to the managements of newspapers the fact that something must be done, but the signs were apparent for the last six years. Management has not faced the change brought about by the coming of other media, television, and also perhaps the threat from radio. I have a sneaking feeling that managements have not interfered or tried to bring about agreement with the unions in order to get rid of surplus manpower. No one disputes that £4 million could be saved if over-manning went now, and that is over 50 per cent. I know the economic reasons and I sympathise, but one of the reasons why newspapers have done nothing about it is that they thought that if they gave way to pressure their weaker brethren would be forced to the wall more quickly. That is one of the reasons why the News Chronicle went out. It would have been far better if management and the unions had faced their problems earlier and not allowed this situation to arise.
We have heard today the prognostications of Lord Devlin and many others that in the next three or four years there will possibly be the disappearance of three more national dailies and one more Sunday newspaper. That will not be due to the wicked machinations of Press barons. I remind the House of what Lord Devlin said:They will not be swallowed up by tycoons anxious to foist their own brands of politics on increasing masses. There are no such people. The Report destroys utterly the idea that newspapers can be kept alive by antimonopoly legislation.This is an absolute fact.
If we want proof of the weakness of management we have only to look at the meteoric rise from very humble origins of Lord Thomson. He came into the business, not with the wealth of Croesus but as a small operator, yet by sheer efficiency and application of brain- 1738 power he has made a fortune for himself, and good luck to him. I think he has been a very healthy influence in the British Press world.
Some newspapers—I name the I.P.C. and the Daily Mirror group—are most vociferous in saying, "Let us get rid of restrictive practices", but in spite of the 1,000 which they may have got rid of in the last few months, I could point to departments of that newspaper where there is still enormous inefficient overmanning and lack of use of modern machinery which is available to do the job with far less men. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) knows this as well as I.
Although I know something about this industry, I do not belong to it in any way. It has been fashionable for everybody who has spoken in this debate, except, I think, for the two Front Bench speakers, to declare an interest of some sort—
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I had not realised that the Front Benches were so distinguished. I ask their pardon. We have all declared an interest. I have held an N.U.J. card. I have been in the advertising business most of my life. I am a director of one or two cultural magazines and I know something about it from various angles.
It is because I realise the weakness of management of the national Press that I rather resent the attempt by certain hon. Members opposite to present advertisers as the niggers in the woodpile which is not at all true. It may well be that certain newspapers depend far too much for their revenue on advertising, but the fact that the Daily Telegraph depends on advertising for 72 per cent. of its revenue while the Daily Mirror has only 33 per cent. of its revenue from this source is interesting but, in my view, has no significance.
Certain kites have been flown about levies and the hon. Member for Gravesend spoke of the redistribution of the advertising money that is spent by the Government. I say most solemnly, having known quite a lot about this from both sides, that in my opinion an interference with the free flow of advertising 1739 and the availability of free choice for advertisers would, in the end, lead simply to a reduction in the volume of advertising and the state of the Press would be much worse as a result. Furthermore, it would make some newspapers as unsuccessful as their unsuccessful rivals are now. Those that have been successful would become unsuccessful, and this would not in any way help to solve the problems of the weak papers.
I agree very much with the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), who said that the lifeblood of newspapers is journalists. The news and views put forward by journalists are the sinews of the newspaper industry. It is what appears in the editorial columns that attracts readers, keeps them attracted and builds up more and more new readers, which in turn attracts more advertising revenue to reach those people in the most economical way. It is as simple as that.
Although I have been critical about the manpower policy of the Daily Mirror, let me hasten to show how objective my views are by saying that the Daily Mirror is the best edited paper. That is why the best paper is the Daily Mirror. It is, perhaps, one of the best edited papers in the world. It is certainly a superb paper. It is my first reading every day. It is very much to be congratulated on the courage of its editorials and it is getting a little more objective itself. I do not object to the bias. One can always correct that if it has a bias. It is an extremely brilliantly edited and laid-out paper. If other papers were as well edited, they would be out of half of their troubles.
While the essence of the newspaper industry is journalism, nevertheless one of the important other functions of the Press is to provide a market place for goods and services. It is just as important to let people know about new central heating systems or new products which have come on to the market. It is not only essential to our economic health, but it is essential for the ordinary everyday living of people that they should have that information. We do not merely sell beer, cigarettes and the like, as the hon. Member for Gravesend said. In the advertising business, we are as much promoting ideas as we are selling goods. We pick the most economical 1740 media for the presentation of those ideas.
The newspapers play an essential part for thousands of businesses which have to find a way of telling people about their new developments, their new products and the price or distribution arrangements of their goods.
There have been several experiments to introduce newspapers, some by rich millionaires who share the phobia of advertising of certain hon. Members opposite and who have produced newspapers without advertising and have subsidised them heavily. They have always failed, because it has been proved without any doubt that the average man and woman wants news of the market place just as they want the news and views about world and local events. One cannot produce either a magazine or a newspaper devoid of economic views.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-gate (Mr. Berry) expressed the view that The Times would soon be paying more attention to the Stock Exchange and financial houses. I go further and say that since Lord Thomson is a very shrewd man there will be much more in The Times about business as a whole, because business is the concern of about 95 per cent. of the people. For far too long we have failed to glamorise or pay tribute to the ordinary men and women who spend their working lives producing and selling goods. The newspaper has a part to play in that, too.
We have been told that to improve the economic situation of newspapers we should face the issue and raise their price. Here I have sympathy with the hon. Member for Gravesend. When people say this so airily, I wonder whether they have worked out what it would mean if the Sunday Times were to have no advertising revenue. Lord Thomson has estimated that the cost per copy of the paper would be between 2s. and 2s. 6d. It is very nice to talk about paying for the newspapers out of revenue. There may be a case for raising the price by a penny or two, but to get the real economic price of producing the paper cannot be done. To try to do so would be the quickest way to kill most papers.
I am fortified in my belief that the President of the Board of Trade was right in saying that be would pursue a 1741 policy of non-interference and leave it to the newspapers to put their own house in order, because that view was very strongly expressed also by Lord Shaw-cross when the Royal Commission under his chairmanship examined this subject. Research has proved also that political views are not the determining factor in the purchase of a newspaper. If political views were the determining factor, the Daily Herald would still be in existence and the Sun would not be in its present difficulty.
We have an educated electorate which does not wish to read a paper which is necessarily confined to its own narrow views, whether Conservative or Labour. Newspaper editors, too, are beginning to realise this. Advertising has an integral part to play in the newspaper business. It is an essential component of an efficient distributive system, and nothing should be done to advertising to harm this. If it were pursued to that extent, it would be to the detriment of the country.
It is significant that the amount of the gross national product spent on advertising throughout the world is in proportion to the industrial development of countries. That is why America, with a high standard of living, spends more of her gross national product on advertising than we do. We come high in the list and Germany is close to us. The lower a country's standard of living, the less advertising it does.
I come now to a suggestion which I feel that the proprietors should take up, and I put it to those newspaper proprietors who are here. Today, advertisers have many research and management techniques for selecting the papers to fit their prospective audiences. I can only say that the newspapers, particularly in the light of the new competition which they have faced from television and radio, have proved hopelessly inflexible in trying to sell their space. The size, shape and so on of advertising presentation is far too standardised for present-day market demands. I understand that the I.P.A. is shortly to meet the N.P.A. to try to persuade newspaper managements to be much more flexible and to realise that they must change to meet the challenge of the television companies.
The situation is bad in the newspaper industry, but it is not all that bad. I 1742 believe passionately in a free and unfettered Press depending in no way on the Government of the day. A free and unfettered Press is absolutely vital for the continuation of political democracy itself. Our Press is one of the best in the world. We get the best value for money here. It is not for me to say whether this or that newspaper should raise its price. That is for management. But, while newspapers occupy a special place in the life of the citizen, they are also a business.
I remind hon. Members on both sides, particularly hon. Members opposite, that newspapers are a business, whatever else they are, and changes must come about from time to time in the structure of the newspaper industry. To try to frustrate changes would be permanently to damage the operating efficiency of our entire economy. Newspapers cannot be saved if they are inefficient any more than any other industry can be. It is the inefficient that go to the wall, as in anything else. But Lord Thomson has proved that newspapers which serve the community well will survive and flourish, and they will also prove a good investment. There is a place not only for papers with mammoth circulations but for small papers catering for minority interests.
To sum up, I am not depressed about the state of the Press. I believe that, if its management will now start making itself more efficient, if it will have a recruitment and training scheme for new entrants, if will see that it makes use of modern management techniques, if it will start co-operating with the unions to get rid of restrictive practices and featherbedding, if it will jerk up its own views on how to get advertising revenue so that newspapers can compete more fairly with television and other media, there is no need for alarm or despondency.
Like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I believe that our newspapers are on the threshold of new, exciting technological changes. If managements will take advantage of these new technological changes and if they can have the co-operation of the unions, the British Press has a fine fair future before it.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
I am a little conscious of 1743 rising to speak without being able to declare a special interest. I can claim only to be an avid reader of the Press. Perhaps I may claim to represent the consumer interest which has hardly been expressed so far in the debate. It is with some trepidation that I move into a field in which we have heard of lunatic proprietors, drunken operatives and the rest. I cannot believe that things are quite as bad as they have been painted by some of those who are much more directly involved in the industry than I am.
I shall concern myself not with the provincial Press, the evening newspapers or the local weekly newspapers, but with the national Press because it is the national Press which today faces special problems. In a certain respect our national newspapers are different from all the remainder of the Press in Britain. I am not belittling the regional Press, the evenings or the weeklies, but the problems which that part of the industry has to face are not so acute and are not of the same nature as the problems faced by the national daily and Sunday Press.
I do not regard this as a party political issue, although it is a political issue about which the House should be concerned. I am increasingly disturbed at what I regard as a potentially dangerous situation. There is today a real threat to the survival of many of our national newspapers, and this threat stems largely from the increasing concentration of ownership in the industry and from the economic problems which it faces today. Even in the last few weeks we have seen threats to the survival of The Guardian. We saw the eventual take-over of The Times. In addition, we have had the Report of the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has stimulated much of the discussion which has been going on recently.
But we delude ourselves if we imagine that the problems which we are talking about tonight are of recent origin. Moreover, it is complete nonsense to suggest that they are related to economic policies pursued in the last one, two or three years, whatever we may think of those economic policies.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
No one would suggest that they are not deep-seated. I said that myself. But the economic problems have highlighted the situation by depressing the advertising revenue of newspapers.
§ Dr. Dunwoody
I shall take up that point in a few minutes.
Notwithstanding the anxieties about the industry, which have been expressed today and in the past, closures of national daily or Sunday newspapers have taken place at intervals over the years. There were many take-overs before we had the argument about whether The Times should or should not be taken over. There has been increasing competition, particularly from television, and competition not only in the dissemination of news but also in advertising. This also has been with us for a number of years.
Because of the long-standing concern, we have had a succession of reports. There was the Royal Commission of 1949, the Royal Commission of 1961–62, and now the E.I.U. Report. One hardly doubts that if we do nothing about the situation now we shall have a further report or Commission of some sort in a few more years. It is useful, therefore, to look back at some of the observations made by the two Royal Commissions.
Going back to 1949, the Royal Commission said:We should deplore any tendency on the part of the larger chains of newspapers to expand",and in the same Report we read:Any further decrease in the number of national newspapers would be a matter for anxiety.Those were opinions expressed nearly 20 years ago. Turning to the more recent Royal Commission of 1961–62, we were then told:It would be better if there were more choice",andConcentration of ownership carries with it the potential danger that variety of opinion may be stifled ".Yet no action of real significance has been taken by successive Governments. We see no real change at all.
I do not believe that the reason for inaction is disinterest or a failure to realise that a problem exists. The underlying factor is the difficulty and complexity of the problem itself. Obviously, there is no easy quick solution, and anyone who suggests that there is does no service to the cause of a free Press in this country, and he deludes those who work in the industry in whatever capacity.
1745 We have a unique state of affairs in Britain today. We have more newspaper readers compared with total population than any other country. Readership of our national newspapers per 1,000 of popular on is the highest in the world. Together with that, we have a large overall population—50 million or so. This is a very densely populated country with, in spite of the many comments we make in the House, generally very good communications.
All this has meant that in Britain, and in Britain alone as compared with the rest of the world, it has been possible for a highly centralised national Press to be developed, centred on the capital city. Over the years, there has been increasing concentration on London, with newspapers being edited and printed in London and despatched overnight all over the country. Some editions are produced in Manchester and Scotland, of course, but the great emphasis has been on London editorial production and London printing. This emphasis on the capital has been far greater than it has been in any other country.
One consequence of this development has been the production of mass circulation newspapers. The circulation figures of our national daily papers are far in excess of the figures of comparable newspapers anywhere else in the world. It is because of that unusual situation that that very strange economic structure has arisen in the industry over the years. The difficulties of the British national Press are therefore unique. They are difficulties which cannot be shown to exist in other countries to anything like the same extent.
It is in this situation that we find today about half of our national daily papers making a loss; and very much the same sort of situation is found in the Sunday newspapers, of which perhaps just under half are making a loss. Those newspapers are making losses despite what would be considered mass circulations in world, Western European and American terms. Papers like the Sun or the Sunday Telegraph would be regarded as having mass circulations in France, West Germany, Italy, any other European country, or in America. Yet they are almost below the starvation level here.
1746 It is an extraordinary situation that daily newspapers with these mass circulations are being threatened with closures and are making considerable losses at the moment. The E.I.U. Report forecast that in the next five years we would lose four national newspapers—two popular dailies and one quality daily, and one quality Sunday.
One of the most disturbing things about the Report was the way in which all the emphasis was on the possible closures. I could not see a word about new newspapers. Yet, why should we be concerned with the purely restrictive side of things in the industry? I do not wish to get involved in extreme political viewpoints, but it disturbs me that it seems impossible today for anybody to start a new paper in this country. Efforts were made to do so on the extreme Right and extreme Left of the political spectrum, and although the sort of newspapers that might have been produced would not have been to my taste, I regret that it was apparently not possible for anyone to succeed.
We must consider how the situation has arisen and why. I hope that I have outlined why the industry is very different from any other. The British national newspaper industry is not only different from the newspaper industry in other parts of the world, but is very different from other industries in this country. One talks of success and failure and those words have been used in today's debate. But the criteria of success and failure in the industry are so totally different from what they are in every other industry in the country that I find it difficult to use the words. Indeed, some of the most successful newspapers to my mind are among those whose chances of survival seem most remote.
I now wish to turn to the economic side, because it is there, and particularly in the distortion of income in the industry, that many of the problems arise. The problem is not to such a great extent, as one hon. Member tried to suggest, a failure to produce a product of adequate quality. It is not a failure to sell newspapers or even to take into account the changing demands of the community and the consumer. Other factors which are often beyond the control of those who guide the destinies of particular newspapers result in failure. I am concerned about this because selling newspapers is not the 1747 same as selling detergents. Producing newspapers is not like producing motorcars. The industry is different and the Government have a duty to deal with it in a way different from that in which they deal with other industries facing similar problems.
The income of the newspaper industry is dangerously distorted by over-dependence on advertising revenue. We have heard how the quality newspapers derive more than 70 per cent. of their income from advertising revenue, and even the "populars" derive about 40 per cent., a fantastically high proportion which makes the newspapers exceedingly vulnerable to any change in advertising expenditure for any reason. The question of an economic crisis has been mentioned. The slightest suggestion of economic crisis will mean a catastrophic drop in advertising revenue for newspapers on the breadline, because when there is a cut in advertising expenditure it is not spread evenly through the newspaper world; it affects the less successful, smaller circulation newspapers. It is not the giants which feel the squeeze when there is economic crisis, but newspapers on the borderline.
The effect of commercial television is felt in the same way. I was concerned that the Leader of the Opposition spoke so glowingly about local commercial radio, because I doubt whether many people in the industry would welcome it. The inordinate effect of very small changes in advertising expenditure underlines the vulnerability of the industry.
The other side of the coin is that too little of a newspaper's income comes from the consumer. It is not popular or desirable these days to talk about raising prices, but I must be blunt about the amount we pay for newspapers. What we pay for a daily newspaper makes it the best buy in the world. At the moment, 4d. is the price of a newspaper with a very large number of pages giving wide political, social and other coverage. In Western Europe, America, or any other comparable country, one finds that the consumer must pay a great deal more.
I do not want to bore the House by quoting a large number of examples, but I have been unable to find any newspaper that is "national" in our sense that does not charge at least 50 per cent. more than our cheaper newspapers. We shall have 1748 to prepare ourselves to pay more for our newspapers. It is right and proper that we should do so in the future.
We should also consider whether the price structure, the cost we must pay as consumers, is too rigid. I know that there are differences between newspapers costing 4d., 5d. and 6d., but generally we pay 4d. for a daily paper and 6d. for a Sunday paper. I am not convinced that that is necessarily right and proper, and that there should not be a greater variation in the amounts we pay for our papers. That is done without question with magazines, but the difficulty at the moment is that no newspaper dares change the amount it charges the consumer, because it fears that a drop in circulation will result in a catastrophic drop in advertising revenue, which could be the end of the newspaper.
That is an unfortunate and difficult dilemma, but Government action of the right sort could do something to solve it. If the industry felt that there was some sort of lifeline, some sort of net, so that a paper which had the courage to charge more to the consumer could do it without sealing its own death warrant, a bit more economic sense would be introduced into that part of the newspaper world. The danger of circulation loss resulting from the price going up is somewhat exaggerated. Small increases in the cost of newspapers would be accepted when the consumer felt that they were worth while and produced a better product.
A great deal as been said in the debate understandably about the cost of production. The emphasis has been laid time and time again on the E.I.U. Report's comments on poor management and out-dated union practices. I do not want to go into them in great detail, but I believe that there is a tendency to overemphasise those problems.
I was interested to see that the Report said that:Restrictive practices are not as bad as is generally believed.and that theydo not materially affect final success or failure.That is not to say that there should not be a change in many of the practices seen in the newspaper world. Management could certainly improve to a considerable extent, and on the trade union side it 1749 is necessary to solve the problems of over-manning, of the difficulties of people in getting into the industry, and of adapting to the modern techniques which will come in more and more rapidly in the years ahead.
In addition, the relationship between management and trade unionists is not in the main as happy or satisfactory as it should be. When talking about that relationship, let us not talk just about the two sides. There is a third side—the journalist. One sometimes tends to forget that side of the industry, particularly in times of crisis like this. Very often it is the journalist, rather than the management or the trade union side, on whom most of the pressures are exerted when newspapers face economic storms.
It tends to be the journalists who are given the sack at the drop of a hat and, indeed, the higher up the scale the greater seems to be the risk. Some of the posts seem to change as rapidly as football league matches. That part of the industry is perhaps more vulnerable than any other. The journalists often have to work long hours and perhaps they have not the protection that the managements or the trade unions enjoy.
The question is what action, if any, can the Government take? I am not prepared to accept—and it would be wrong to do so—the present situation. We cannot just go on as we have done over the last 15 or 20 years. I am certain that, if action is not taken in the reasonably near future, it will be forced upon us in the more distant future. If we are to take action, we should think now about what it should be and start to take it as soon as possible.
Obviously, we should encourage the industry itself—the more we can do that the better—to put its own house in order. One feature of the Report is that it came about as a result of the initiative of the industry, including both sides. That is a good sign that augurs well for the future. But even when many of the things it says are wrong are put right, we shall face the same sort of problems as today. We have to look to more positive measures.
The difficulty is to find something acceptable and compatible with a free Press. All sorts of things have been suggested, including various forms of taxa- 1750 tion and restrictive measures, and a legal limit on advertising. I doubt whether this would work, or help the sort of newspapers that a great number of us in this House would like. Another suggestion is for some sort of differential taxation on advertising or on advertising over a certain limit. This would involve such a vast bureaucratic machinery that it would not be reasonable.
The question of Government advertising has also been raised. I cannot regard, and it would be wrong for the Government to regard, Government advertising as a means of giving hidden subsidies, but I ask the Government to look at their advertising policy because I am not certain that the commercial criteria by which they determine which newspapers to use are always right. They could spread much of their advertising more widely while still considering the purely commercial criteria.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The hon. Gentleman is making an exceptionally interesting speech. Would he apply his idea not only to newspapers but also to one or two of the smaller weeklies as it were, which have to meet particular competition from the quality Sunday newspapers?
§ Dr. Dunwoody
I would accept this as far as Government advertising is concerned. There is a tendency sometimes to concentrate too much on circulation figures and not perhaps to consider sufficiently the type of people a newspaper or magazine reaches. This is the sort of criterion that should be taken into consideration.
A suggestion has also been made for some sort of publicly-owned press, some means by which the Government could go into that part of the industry. I am not happy about that. It would put the Government in an incredibly strong position vis-à-vis the Press and it would result in some restrictions on the freedom of the Press. This is the potential conflict all the time. All forms of Government subsidy are alleged and seen by some people to be a restriction of the freedom of the Press.
Then there is the question of levies of one sort or another. I ask the Government to look seriously at this because I believe there are possibilities here. I 1751 think that we have to accept that it would be the consumer eventually who would have to pay the levy, which would then be redistributed within the industry in order to provide the sort of assistance that would be considered desirable both socially and from the point of view of the consumer.
The decision as to how redistribution should take place would have to be taken by an independent group on which the industry itself—management, journalists and unions—and the consumer would be represented. Such groups are used in many other industries. It would not be impossible in the newspaper industry, although the difficulties are immense.
The objections to this sort of levy idea are primarily practical and are not objections in principle. We accept Government support for the Arts and the universities but no one suggests that this involves any damage to their freedom. The Government have a duty to look seriously at this suggestion. It is not their duty to protect the Press but it is their duty to safeguard a sufficient variety of channels of information to ensure freedom of the Press.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The more I listened to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) the finer I thought the speech of the President of the Board of Trade and the analysis which he made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him in the refinements of the busy-bodyism which he was advocating and pick instead on the last words he used—"freedom of the Press".
I have been interested and concerned to see that throughout the debate in which freedom must have been the underlying interest of all right hon. and hon. Members, nobody has referred to a feature in contemporary journalism which is causing more anxiety to practising journalists—of whom I am one—than any other single feature. Incidentally, when I say that I am a journalist, I see no need to declare an interest. I have always understood it to be the case that hon. Members declare an interest in the sense of having a direct financial interest in the outcome of the debate, in that it could actually make money for them. I 1752 have understood that people engaged in an occupation have never had to declare their interest in debates concerning it.
The feature I want to refer to is the law of libel, which was described most recently by Mr. Paul Johnson—no friend of the Conservative Party—who wrote a penetrating and disturbing article in the Sunday Telegraph. He referred to the complex and obscure state of the law of libel describing it as arich mine for gold-diggers.He said that, as an editor himself, he found it a restraint upon his duty to tell the truth. He added that, as an editor, he was sometimes obliged to suppress what he believed to be the truth, although he might know something to be so and have evidence of its truth. But then he considers the uncertainty of the law of libel and the extraordinary way in which costs are awarded by juries against newspapers. I think this is because the Press is, like this House, a public scapegoat. People dislike it on the whole, although they depend upon it.
When Mr. Johnson considered the attitude of juries in awarding damages against newspapers, his instinct, he said, was to let the story go and the truth be undisclosed. He added that justice was usually the last thing to emerge and often truth was the first victim. He referred to the hostility of the public to the Press and said that he thought it derived from the resentment of the public that the Press was inclined to intrude upon the privacy of individuals. This is something that the House, in considering the health of the Press, should pay particular regard to.
I think that the privacy difficulty could be overcome by legislation. The Press would then be protected against its own excesses and thereby against much of the hostility that it engenders in the public, and the excessive protection which the public receives in the present state of the law of libel would no longer be called for and no longer be justifiable. It would not be in order for me to make any precise legislative proposals in a debate on the Motion "That this House do now adjourn". I think I am correct in saying that. I might obliquely say that the fundamental point which needs to be covered in amending the law of libel, the Defamation Act, 1952, is to make the award of damages the function of the 1753 judge and not of the jury, and to require the amount of damages to be directly and demonstrably related to the damage to which the plaintiff can show himself to have suffered.
I believe that, from my own experience, this would relieve the kind of tension under which the Press labours in the present state of the law of libel. I have myself had a vivid and sickening example of the way in which truth and justice can be perverted by the operation of the law of libel in its present form. My wife is an author and journalist, and was also a member of the London County Council. She wrote an article criticising the policy of the London County Council, and Left-wing elements of the council's staff association induced 134 members of a department to bring an action for libel on the ground that the criticism of the policy of the council constituted defamation of the officers whose duty it was to carry it out.
Counsel advised that in view of the uncertain state of the law, the uncertainty of the outcome of any action, and the propensity of juries to award colossal damages against newspapers—they had just awarded £250,000 in the Lewis case—it would be better for the newspaper to settle, to pay the damages of £2,000 for which the department asked; that it would be better to make a grovelling and prevaricating statement in court which totally misrepresented the motive, intention and truth of the matter, better to do all these things than to try to defend the right and the truth. The newspaper had the decision; the newspaper decided to settle, and the author's case was thereby hopelessly compromised.
I thought that this was a terrible thing. I felt that a newspaper had been silenced. I felt that a writer had been silenced, in a perfectly honourable and just criticism on a matter of public interest and public policy, and that a fine had been sought to be imposed upon a person doing her public duty as she was entitled to do in the work of her profession, just as though she had been guilty of some grossly wicked crime. There are few crimes that I know of where people emerge with fines of £2,000, which, in many cases, might cripple a writer. The House should consider abuses of this kind in the law of libel if it is truly concerned with the health of the Press in this country.
1754 I should like to refer briefly with commendation to the President of the Board of Trade who opened for the Government. I thought that he came to the right conclusion. I thought that for once his heart was in the right place. I am sure that he will be as successful in keeping his supporters in their places as is his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in keeping the Vietcong lobby in their places. I am quite sure that we shall not hear anything seriously advocated in favour of subsidies or grants for the Press. [An HON. MEMBER: "How awful."] The hon. Member who made that comment has a different opinion from that of his right hon. Friend. I am glad that his right hon. Friend is on the Front Bench and that the hon. Gentleman who is impotently saying "How awful" is on the back bench. I think it would be an awful thing if the Government were tempted to try to mitigate the rigours and difficulties of the Press by giving any kind of assistance whatsoever.
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right: the survival of a newspaper depends upon its commercial success. There should be, and there will be, no rescue by the Government, and no Government aid. My only moment of anxiety was when the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), who is now disappearing from the House, asked a hypothetical question about what the Government's attitude would be if there were still more papers folding up. The right hon. Gentleman did not give any unequivocal answer to that. I hope that the Government Front Bench will stick to their guns and will keep the Government's nose right out of the newspaper business for ever. It is quite wrong for the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who made a sincere and helpful speech, to say that advertisers decide which newspapers shall die. Of course, in a sense, this is the corollary of saying that newspapers must survive by virtue of their commercial success. But, actually, it is not the advertisers who decide.
It was not my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) who said, "Let us kill the News Chronicle". It was not the advertisers who decided that. It is the public who decide in what quantities they will buy a newspaper and who, therefore, influence the advertisers, in 1755 their proper duty to serve the interests of their clients, to decide where they shall advertise. It is the number of people who decide to buy a particular newspaper and thereby decide its fate who influence advertisers and are influenced, in their turn, by the skill with which the editors, the staff, the proprietors and management produce that newspaper.
§ Mr. David Marquand (Ashfield)
It seems a quite extraordinary proposition, when over one million people were buying the News Chronicle every day, that it should then be possible to argue that in some sense people did not want the News Chronicle, and it is therefore right that the News Chronicle should fold up.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It may be "extraordinary", if the hon. Member likes to apply that word to it, but it happened. It was not absolutely without justice, because the fact is that more people wanted to buy another paper; and in the rough and cruel justice of the market place—which is less rough and cruel than the justice one gets from a monopolistic Government paying subsidies and then deciding who shall run the newspapers—theirs was the final decision. It was a good newspaper, a Liberal newspaper, but it was not good enough to survive. It was not the advertisers who decided that. It was the extra people to the million readers who did buy it who decided that the paper should die.
That is extraordinary, perhaps, but many manifestations of human nature are extraordinary. I have often regretted many of them myself. I think there is an extraordinary lack of recognition of my unique virtues, but we have to become reconciled to these things. On the whole, I would rather have the injustice of a free society, than have the injustices of the kind of society which, with the best will in the world, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne is drifting into by saying, "Let us have an independent committee; of course, it will not influence editorial policy, but it ought to decide which paper should live and which die". I would have absolutely nothing of it whatsoever. I am a Conservative and the inheritor of the great Liberal tradition of Western civilisation. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If I were not the inheritor of the Liberal tradition of Western civilisation, my party would not be sitting on 1756 these benches in such great numbers, and if that tradition had not been betrayed by hon. Members below the Gangway, who are never here, they would be here in greater numbers.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
The hon. Gentleman is the inheritor of the great Whig tradition and not the Liberal tradition.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The right hon. Gentleman is a former history don of the other house, Christ Church. I sense a temptation here to enter into a fascinating evening of historical debate, but I will resist the temptation.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) must not provoke me. I can prove to him that I am not the inheritor of the Whig tradition. I believe that my great-great-great-great-grandfather once stood for Parliament as a Whig, but that was only to keep the seat warm for his nephew who was a Whig. My great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Tory; and that is far too tenuous a connection for me to have the Whig heritage hung around my neck, and I will not have it.
However, I must not be diverted indefinitely, because there are many of my hon. Friends on these benches here whom I would not want to prevent from taking part in this debate. The thought that I might prevent more than one or two hon. Members opposite from getting into the debate would be intolerable to me, and so I must hasten and not detain the House.
The root of the matter is that newspapers are commercial enterprises. They depend upon revenue; revenue depends upon advertising; advertising depends upon circulation; circulation depends upon the appeal of the newspaper to those who are to buy it; the appeal of the newspaper depends upon the way in which it presents whatever the editor sees fit to put into it.
I think that it was the President of the Board of Trade who was marvelling, who said that it was always rather surprising—and I think that he took some joy in the fact—that we had a capitalist Press which, on the whole, supported a Socialist Government. It is not surprising at all.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Whoever it was who said it, it was not surprising.
In connection with what I was saying about the appeal of the newspaper being what sells it, the political complexion of a newspaper has practically nothing to do with its saleability. Very few people, only a few cranks like hon. Members, are in the least interested in the political persuasion of newspapers. Most people do not read the politics in the newspapers. I occasionally see in my local newspaper, between the small-ads and the sport, a slight reference to me, usually with my name wrongly spelt, and I work myself up into a frenzy of excitement, either in indignation or enthusiasm, saying, "Here we are making huge political progress" or "Here we are being dealt a devastating political blow", all because some Left-wing sub-editor has put in a derisory report about me speaking to a Young Conservative meeting. I am never mentioned when I speak in the House of course, but if the Liberal candidate sneezes in the constituency, it is on the front page.
But my interest in all this is totally misplaced. If any of my constituents see "M.P." in a headline, they skip it. If constituents see anything about Liberal, Conservative, Socialist or Labour, they do not read it, for most people are just not interested in politics. Therefore, it does not matter if the editors of journals, or contributors to them, are sympathetic to the Labour Party, contrary to the persuasion of most of their readers. Their readers do not read those bits.
It is not unnatural that many journalists should be Left-wing. I have always felt that almost by definition highly articulate and literate people are neurotic. I think being articulate and literate is a symptom of neurosis. [HON. MEMBERS: "And you?"] I agree. My literacy and my articulateness occasion me acute hypochondriac anxiety. If I were one of those extrovert people who never speak in anything but words of four letters, I would be much better adjusted and far less often misunderstood.
§ Mr. Moonman
I wonder whether we can consider the health of the British Press rather than the health of the hon. 1758 Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger)
§ Mr. Iremonger
It is the health of the British Press. The question is whether it is a matter of concern that the British Press, in promoting the success of the commercial enterprise upon which it depends, is jeopardised by the rather eccentric Left-wing views of many people who write for it. That is the thread of the argument which the hon. Member has lost. No doubt, he is more interested in the personal footnotes, but that was not the main burden of what I was saying.
I was saying that we need not bother about the fact that most newspapers are more Left-wing than they would be if they considered on which side their bread was buttered, because they are run by literate and articulate people, many of them interested in politics, which itself is a neurotic symptom. On the whole, they ought to be, and long may they remain so, uncommitted, highly critical, rather annoying-minded people, and they are very valuable indeed. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) and I should be criticised by unhelpful people. It does us good. I glory in the curious anomaly of the articulateness and literacy and neuroticism of political journalists.
But all this goes back to the fundamental proposition which the right hon. Gentleman recognised—that the health of a free Press in a free society depends on the health of the capitalist system. He did not know the trap into which he was falling, but that was the logical conclusion of what he said. It may not be ideal that the Press should have to stand on its own feet on commercial terms in a commercial world, but if that is not ideal, the abuses to which it gives rise are at least mitigated by the rigours and rivalry of competition; and on the whole I believe that, in the long run, in a free society, in this country, good will drive out evil.
Those are the terms on which I am prepared to accept freedom, which may often bring a bitter harvest in the short-run to those who depend on the Press and to the Press itself. But I am certain that, whatever the evils may be in a free Press in a competitive system, they are nothing as compared with the evils which flow from a society in which there 1759 is a Pravda or "The Thoughts of Chairman Mao". [HON. MEMBERS: "Or the Conservative Weekly News-letter."] Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to say that. I think that the Conservative Newsletter has certain merits, but if there were any question of that being the Government-subsidised only newspaper I would be absolutely against it.
I therefore say that the evils which flow from a free enterprise commercial society with a free Press in which some papers go to the wall are not so bad as those evils which flow from the remedies of those who want to apply Government aid and Government subsidies. Therefore, I conclude by saying that personally I feel that the true heart of the matter was reached by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) who said that the Press would find its own level, that it would not be driven out of the service of democracy. I believe that, in whatever form, a British Press and a great British Press will survive, because there will always be people in this country who need and demand in large numbers to have in written form a statement of news and opinions upon which they can rely and upon which they can differ and which they can abandon if they like, choosing another if they prefer.
Therefore, with the single great exception of my profound concern for and disgust with the present state of the law of libel, I am not so moved by anger as many hon. Members who have reacted, largely because another place got in first to the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit on the state of the Press.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ryan (Uxbridge)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) will excuse me if I do not follow him in the rather threadbare and fantastic arguments which he brought forth and which, if I may say so with respect, rather lowered the tone of the debate, which up to then had been a sensible and proper one. I was very interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), because he made points in the debate which had not been made until then and which were pursued by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody).
1760 He particularly departed from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) which would have done credit to Adam Smith, so touching was his belief that if the present situation in the Press was allowed to continue unfettered, untrammelled by any sort of Government action, in some sense as a by-product of this, the common good or the good of the greater need of society would emerge. This is an incorrect view in terms of the present situation.
I want to examine briefly some of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend. He read a great deal of data indicating the level of Government advertising in certain sections of the Press and suggested that the Government should redistribute advertising as a form of subsidy to sections of the Press which were not getting what he considered to be their share of Government advertising. This is a view which I thoroughly reject and it would be an incorrect way to redistribute any subsidy. I do not disagree with subsidy, but this is a hopeless way to do it, through Government advertising, because Government advertising, like any other advertising, should have one function and that is to be as efficient as possible within the context of an agreed budget and to do a job of total efficiency. It would be incorrect for the Government to subsidise in this manner, and if we departed from rigorous principles in placing advertisements, it would be a form of subsidy, but it would be hidden, and it would be difficult to say what the subsidy was, and to criticise the direction in which it was flowing.
It would not be a rational subsidy and if we are in some way to soften the force of commercialism on the Press, to do it through Government advertising, through such diffuse Departments as the C.O.I. and other agencies, is the wrong way. The other interesting point which my hon. Friend made arose when he said that he felt he would like to see more people reading the quality Press and would like to see the quality Press available to the general public at a fairly low rate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne that the Press in this country is the cheapest in Europe in terms of the number of pages and the coverage for the cost. But it would be a dangerous thing to argue that, as society changes and there are wider 1761 educational opportunities, an expression of this should be a shift in the circulation of newspapers away from popular newspapers to what are called the "heavy" newspapers.
This is not necessarily an indication that something is happening within society. An even more valid indication is when newspapers change, because development in society and in newspapers is an interaction, and the newspaper cannot be too far in advance of its readers nor can it lag behind them. I would refer hon. Members to the excellent Granada Northern Lectures made last autumn by Mr. Cecil King, when he demonstrated clearly that the Daily Mirror of 1967 would be a different Daily Mirror from that of 1957 and 1947, and within the context of a successful popular newspaper there is a more serious coverage, about the City, unit trusts, and foreign affairs than was ever conceivable before in a popular newspaper. This is happening now.
Some of my colleagues may suffer from Fabian hang-overs in that they believe that the opposite of bad popular journalism is "heavy" journalism. It is not, it is good popular journalism, and there is great scope in the British Press for this. Reference has been made on this side of the House to a form of subsidy based upon a levy upon advertising. This is impracticable, and would lead to disastrous consequences for the Press. If we look back at the 1962 Royal Commission we find that the proportion of the revenue of newspapers derived from advertising and circulation varies enormously. We find that the more popular the newspaper, the bigger the circulation, and the less dependent it is upon advertising.
From memory, I think that the People and the News of the World had something like 35 per cent. to 40 per cent. of their income coming from advertising, but towards the top end, the heavy end of the scale, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times, the ratio rose to as much as 75 per cent. of their revenue coming from advertising. In that context, what is the effect of any limitation upon the volume of revenue to be derived from advertising? If the Government proposed a levy on any revenue in excess of 50 per cent. of one's revenue from advertising, the papers 1762 which would suffer most are those at the top end of the scale, and those which would suffer less are those with the widest circulations.
It is not the function of the Government to postulate what people should read; it is the function of the Government to provide choice, and I regret that in his speech my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that the Government had no responsibility upon this basis, or any responsibility upon which he is prepared to act. I am not criticising the popular Press, I am saying that it would be undesirable if the heavy newspapers were penalised because of this advertising levy. It would be undesirable for two reasons. First, there would be a tendency for the advertising department of a newspaper to take it fairly easy once it had reached 45 per cent. to 48 per cent. of its income over a year from advertising revenue, and this would not add to greater efficiency nor would it be justifiable in terms of the E.I.U. Report.
The other possible consequence of the levy would be that the heavy newspapers would dilute their contents in order to widen their circulation base. All newspapers want a wider circulation; they want a certain type of bigger circulation, and they get it by different methods. Some plan ahead, some plan changes of staff, changes in the idiom, which will attract younger readers or readers of a certain type and social grouping. It would be sad if the quality of the heavy newspapers was diluted in order to obtain revenue from circulation at the expense of advertising revenue. It is a fairly naïve view to think that in some sense the money spent on Press advertising, about £110 million a year, would continue at this level if restrictions were placed upon the free laws of commerce. An advertiser does not advertise in a certain newspaper in isolation. He chooses not just among competing newspapers but he has to consider whether to advertise on cinema, television, posters or whether to advertise at all. Sometimes he can choose other advertising schemes, direct mail, merchandising schemes and so on. The decision to advertise is not taken relatively, but because he can see an absolute level of efficiency for his advertising, because of the buyer which he can see in a newspaper.
1763 If there were restrictions upon the quota of advertising which any newspaper can take—in the same way as after the war there was a necesary restriction because of a newsprint shortage, which artificially stimulated the advertising revenue of papers which are now more marginal in advertising terms—the resulting redistribution would either be very marginal or if the restrictions were such that the redistribution would have to be quite severe, then it is possible that the total amount of money spent on Press advertising would diminish. I know that we are not in an ideal situation, but it would be to the disadvantage of the Press if this sum of about £110 million were reduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Cambome said that he thought that there was no difficulty in principle about a levy but that the difficulty was one of practicality. I disagree with him. I am against the levy in principle. I agreed with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade when he said that the newspaper industry was unlike other industries with which the Board of Trade had to deal. Like him, I regard a newspaper as being different from a tin of beans, a motor car or a washing machine or any other product. It is a living organism and vital for the good of society. It should not be treated as though it were a manufactured product.
If one sees a newspaper as something more like a theatre than a tin of beans, is it not ludicrous that failing theatres are not being subsidised from the profits of the successful theatres? Newspapers do not exist in society in isolation. It is ludicrous to penalise the efficient, imaginative and good in order to subsidise those which run into difficulties. If society decides to subsidise newspapers, the subsidy should be raised across the board from the general revenue of the tools the Government have at their disposal and not just redistributed in the marginal area of newspapers?
Any feeling that one can redistribute is very vague unless one can specify the criteria with which one redistributes. This could cause some embarrassment. If the criterion is non-profitability, it is not just The Guardian which would qualify; it is the Daily Sketch. If the criterion is one of struggling journalists with very 1764 little money trying to put across their message, it does not apply only to the Sunday Citizen or Tribune; it applies also to the New Daily and Mosley's newspapers. There could be embarrassment if, in the queue for the subsidies, we included the wolves with the lambs. If any objective criterion were set, it would be extremely difficult to redistribute in a way which would necessarily concentrate the subsidy on filling the gap to the community when a newspaper fails.
In conclusion, I should like to indicate what I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio to consider. If he agrees that newspapers are valuable to society because they convey the ideas which excite men's minds and are not merely products in the market place, surely he cannot shirk the Government's responsibility to maintain diversification in a situation in which the number of newspapers is ever dwindling. I do not take the view, which has been advanced today, that the present situation in the Press in terms of numbers of newspapers available is static, sacrosanct, God-given or necessarily desirable in the long term. What is important is not numbers but the range of diversity and the quality and range of the ideas expressed.
I pay tribute to the many newspaper proprietors who continue to carry newspapers which are showing a commercial loss because they are part of a globally profitable group. That is to their credit. I recognise that not all newspaper mergers are necessarily bad. There are many newspapers which have survived because of merger which would obviously have gone out of business if they had not merged. I saw recently that New Society had been acquired by the International Publishing Corporation. This filled me not with dismay but with a certain amount of pleasure, and I felt that the future of New Society as a journal was secure, with the resources of a large organisation and the kind of efficiency which an organisation like the I.P.C. can mount behind it. We should recognise this and give credit where it is due.
Having tried to demonstrate that an advertising levy would be hopeless in principle and practice and that subsidy should be concentrated feasibly and according to rational criteria and not under 1765 the table of misdirected Government advertising, I come to the point of how I believe the subsidy which I feel is necessary should be administered. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne that now is the time for the Government to consider the possibility of setting up a national Press corporation or an advisory committee to consider the nature of the Press and the possibility of the Government purchasing machines and newsprint and concentrating the subsidy on lease terms to groups of working journalists who have some prospect of running a newspaper.
Some people will shout "No", but this is not a new departure. We have this principle in the Television Act in which the I.T.A. was set up as an advisory committee to give leases to television companies, many of which were in competition with each other. Six or seven companies went to the I.T.A. and asked for the franchise on leases for transmitters and the I.T.A. had to make a judgment on the basis of the group's financial security and experience and its ideas about how a station should be run. My hon. Friend's suggestion is feasible and the Government will ignore it at their peril.
I do not share the feeling that we should allow things to drift and stand back and touch wood that we are not debating the death of a newspaper. This debate is taking place because we want to prevent the deaths of more newspapers, which will undoubtedly occur if the forces of free enterprise and laissez faire in the Press are allowed to go untrammelled. It would be tragic if the Labour Government allowed a situation to develop in which a means of communication which we recognise as a vibrant force in society dwindled into a visionless monopoly.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)
This is the first time in 20 years that I have walked into the House without thinking that I should make a speech. I hope that I shall make a contribution which is worthy of the notice of the Minister without Portfolio. I disagree completely with the speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Ryan). I hope that no Government will ever try forcibly to interfere with the Press by way of subsidy or con- 1766 trol. Unless we have a free Press, our liberties are in danger.
During the last hour it has seemed to me that a strange contrast has developed between this debate and that which took place on the Press in the other place only a fortnight ago, when people with authority spoke on the Press in a way in which no one in the House can speak.
§ Sir C. Osborne
Yes, but those who spoke in the other House spoke from knowledge, experience and authority, including one person who used to be a member of a Labour Government. There is not the same authority in this House on this subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is one of the sad things about this House as compared with the other place.
§ Sir C. Osborne
And I have just listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech.
The second thing which has occurred to me is that it was a great pity that a fine newspaper like The Guardian—I hope that it can again become the Manchester Guardian, and not The Guardian—had to force through economies amounting to £500,000 to survive. The Prime Minister, in a very courageous speech to the Press a fortnight ago, talked about the blackmail in the trade unions that made the Press inefficient and made it impossible for certain organs of the Press to survive.
§ Mr. Murray
The E.I.U. Report and the two Royal Commissions on the Press were very critical of the trade unions but they said that this is not the reason why papers have closed down.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I am merely quoting what the Prime Minister said. He used the word "blackmail". I asked him, in 1767 a Question in the House, if he would publish the correspondence which he had with the trade unions concerned. He refused to do so. It is a great pity that a free Press cannot survive in this country because of the absurd restrictions in the trade union movement—
§ Sir C. Osborne
These restrictions make the production of newspapers far more expensive than is necessary. It is no good hon. Members shaking their heads. They should ask their own Leader what he said to the Press on this very point and why he said it. If they want to carry the point still further, they should see the responsible people in The Guardian, which is a very responsible paper, and ascertain why that paper could not have survived if it had not forced through economies to the tune of £500,000.
I believe that a free Press is absolutely necessary to our liberties. There is no question, on the one hand, of the Government trying to compel people to buy a paper that they do not want to read, or, on the other hand, of trying to find subsidies to keep a paper alive that the people will not buy.
May I give the House three examples of my experience with the Press over the last 20 years? I remember, on the 28th floor of the Chicago Tribune building, talking to Colonel MacCormack, the owner. I told him that his paper was very successful as a money-earner but that its editorial influence was nil. The old colonel was furious when I told him that. I should hate to see any Government saying to a newspaper proprietor who could produce a newspaper which people bought freely that, because they did not agree with his political opinions, in some way his newspaper had to be restricted or else closed down.
In 1957, I had a long argument about the Press with Mr. Khrushchev in Moscow. When I talked to him in the Communist headquarters, I asked him, first of all, to stop jamming the B.B.C.'s broadcasts to Russia. Secondly, I said, "Why do you not let your people read our newspapers and find out what sort of people we are?" He replied, "Why should I let my people read a lot of the 1768 rubbish that appears in your Press?" The old boy went on, "It is true that I control my Press," and he claimed that, in doing so, he kept out a lot of the rubbish that appeared in our Press; that he had a restricted but better Press, whereas we had a freer but less responsible Press.
How far can people be allowed to publish what they like so long as others are prepared to buy it without restriction? Once the Government interfere with the contents of the Press, even from the highest motives, I believe that they start to tamper with the liberty of the individual.
Lastly, in 1950, I was a member of a delegation which went to see Marshal Tito. I told members of his Government that our liberties depended upon this kind of argument across the Floor of the House, with a free public listening and a free Press reporting what was said, and that if he claimed real liberty he had to give freedom to his Press in a way which did not then exist.
No matter how well-intentioned hon. Members may be in wanting to clean up or make a better Press, if they have to control the expression of the individual on important matters, ultimately we shall get where Hitler finally finished, whether he wanted to or not, and we shall lose the one thing that matters to us, and that is the ability to express ourselves in our own way about things that matter.
I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) will say about it. Whatever he suggests, I hope that he will not advocate that on our return to power we should control the Press.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I should prefer to see a bad Press which is free than a good Press that is restricted.
The final arbiters are the people who buy newspapers. In a free society, I do not believe that the boys in Whitehall know best on this issue. The final deciders are those who pay their fourpences and fivepences across the counter to buy newspapers. Anything that restricts the rights of people to read what they want is wrong.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
There are two things which I must say at the beginning of my remarks. First, I must apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who is at a reception for Mr. Kosygin, which he felt he should attend. Secondly, I think that I would be voicing the feelings of the whole House if I spoke a word of welcome to the Minister without Portfolio who is to speak tonight for the first time since he returned to the Government Front Bench. Many of us feel that the right hon. Gentleman has had his full share, and perhaps more than his full share, of political adversity in recent years. We welcome him to this debate, though I am not sure that it makes much clearer his detailed functions as the Minister without Portfolio.
Having said those initial words, I should like to return to my real sense of the importance of the subject which we are discussing. I think that it is true to say that the total flow of sources of news is greater than it was 20 years ago, and certainly London in this respect is a far better place than any American city. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), and I think that we should also remember, when we consider the sources of news in Britain, not only the big national papers, but also the provincial ones.
I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party about the importance of the provincials, and the importance of papers with a local interest to the reader. As a Birmingham Member of Parliament, I know very well the value to Birmingham people of a paper with a Midlands interest. Again, if one goes to open a school anywhere, people like to feel that one knows the local details. They wish to hear details about their local concerns, and therefore I think it right that tonight we should not confine ourselves entirely to the national Press.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the development of television makes the Press any less important. Television gives one, as it were, the quick news—the flashes—and introduces one to many leading personalities, but the Press can still give us the story in depth, and, above all, give continuing coverage of a subject 1770 even after it is out of the headlines. This is a point to which I always feel one should attach great importance. A subject like Cyprus, or the Congo, may be out of the headlines, and yet many of us may want to pursue it and know what is going on. It is here that the Press is vital.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the need for a deeper analysis in the Press and more rigorous commentary than we usually have, and about the importance of public discussion in the Press of alternative possibilities of action. It is worth remembering in this context that, according to the Report of the E.I.U., one reason for the declining trend in Press circulation is to the credit of the Press, and not the reverse. I do not think that any hon. Member has quoted the passage on page 79 of the Financial Survey which says that the declining trend in circulation:is attributable partly to the reading habits of the British public and partly to the increasing news coverage of individual newspapers which is likely to reduce the number of people buying more than one newspaper.One ought to remember, in fairness, the considerably increased news coverage of many of our national and provincial newspapers in recent years.
I agree with those hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have reminded us of the excellent value of the Press today. I sometimes think that in this period of rapidly rising prices one easily forgets the things that are good value. Goods like gramophone records and newspapers are remarkably good value for what they cost. But, having said that, it seems to me that we should be under no illusion about the seriousness of the situation presented by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
One minor advantage of having been connected with education for some years is that one gets used to reading documents of a certain length and size. I want to quote a crucial passage from the Report, on page 59 of the Financial Survey, which says:The crucial problem would appear to be one of revenue. The industry is faced with decreasing circulation, a reducing percentage increase from rises in price, and an increasing dependence on an inelastic supply of advertisement revenue which is very vulnerable to the economic climate of the country.1771 Some pages on we read the other grim forecast that the effect on each individual newspaper will vary, but thatout of 18 newspapers considered in this forecast (excluding magazines) probably only 9 can be reasonably certain of making a profit in 1970.It is no good burking the fact that those are pretty grim remarks. In saying that, I am far from suggesting that the Report is beyond criticism. One could make many detailed criticisms of it. One point, in the context of advertisement revenue, is that the Report does not sufficiently distinguish between those newspapers much of whose advertising faces competition from television and those little of whose advertising faces such competition. Quality newspapers are in much the same position, as regards advertising, as if television still did not exist. I have been told that The Times has scarcely ten columns of advertising a week which might otherwise appear on television. There are a certain number of discriminations that this very important Report omits.
None the less, no one can doubt that the Report reveals a serious situation. I thought that some hon. Members were a little too optimistic about the effect of a rise in prices. From experience, it is just not true to say that readers will stick by a newspaper when the price is raised. Indeed, past experience suggests that a unilateral rise in price can be suicidal. Furthermore, in the section of the Report headed "conclusions" there is a very important point concerning the question how far a rise in price of newspapers could solve the problem. It says:Increases in the price of newspapers brings a declining percentage increase in total revenue. Already a penny increase in the price of some newspapers increases total revenue by only 4 or 5 per cent. This indicates that the present revenue pattern is likely to make the industry place a continually greater reliance on advertisement revenue.There is little doubt that that is so. The economic climate of the next few years will be very important to the industry, although we must remember that the main benefit of any increased revenue is likely to go primarily to those newspapers which are already strong.
I have made those points because it is no good our burking them, and the facts presented in the Report show that a serious situation exists. However, there 1772 is one point on the other side that has not been mentioned but which is worth bearing in mind, namely, the extent to which, in financial terms, many of the weaker papers are linked to financially stronger ones. One needs to remember the links with provincial and evening newspapers. For example, The Guardian, which we know is in a difficult position, is linked to the Manchester Evening News, and the Daily Mail, which is a popular daily whose trend is not altogether favourable, is linked to the Evening News, which is financially stronger.
I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that it is a good sign, and something in which we can take pleasure, that the circulation of the quality newspapers has continued to rise. The whole development of the quality Sunday newspapers has been an outstanding feature of life in Britain in recent years.
I come now to the question of what should be done. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was right to reject this afternoon what he called "rescue action" by the Government. I am not dogmatically against aid to private industry in any and every circumstance. I am not sure that I am as good a Conservative son of Liberal forebears as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) on this, although he also was in the House when we as a party gave aid—I believe valuable and well-timed aid—to the cotton textile industry in 1959 for the purpose of regrouping. These matters must, therefore, be considered on their merits.
I do not believe that the analogy with the B.B.C. holds, any more than the analogy with the universities and the Arts Council. The President of the Board of Trade was right to point out that the B.B.C. does not put forward political views on its own account. A newspaper is a forum of debate in which the editor plays a full part; and in that respect a newspaper is in a different position from the B.B.C.
Again, for as far ahead as we can see, we will need to provide massive sums of public money for the universities, not only for the training of students but also for the pursuit of learning, and I welcome the fact that we have agreed that the 1773 arts should have more aid. But the President of the Board of Trade asked this pertinent question: is Government aid to any newspaper to be permanent and, if not—and this is the issue which must be faced—should a Government have to take the invidious political decision to allow a newspaper to close down? That is the relevant question which must be answered.
I reach the same view as that expressed by Lord Shawcross in another place, when he said:Nor can Government help, in whatever form it might be given, be given without in the end the Press having at some point to recognise the obligations which it had incurred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 25th January, 1967; Vol. 279, c. 571.]I believe those words to be true. That being so, I accept the conclusion, just as Lord Shawcross did, that it must be for the Press itself to find the solution to its problems. The Press alone can do it if the freedom of the Press is to be maintained; and I therefore assure my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) that I have no ambition to be a member of a Conservative Government that controls the Press when we return to power after the next General Election.
I will devote the remainder of my speech to the question: how are we to maintain a sufficient variety of newspapers to meet the needs of a modern democracy? Several factors must be considered. The first is management. The E.I.U. Report makes it clear that the quality of management in the newspaper industry is uneven and that the industry is short of professionally trained managers. It states that hardly any managers have had board management training.
We need more facilities for management training and we must think out more rigorously the rationale of management training. I do not expect the Minister to comment on this tonight, but I hope that when the scheme of polytechnics is complete, some of them will able to provide post-experience courses in management, particularly since we are now discussing one of many industries where Post-experience courses could be of great importance.
1774 I add this on management. I believe that it is wrong for the Press to subordinate editorial policy totally to considerations of management. Perhaps I may give this example after a lapse of ten years—I think that it was in the week of the Suez affair that the Observer topped the Sunday Times for the first time in circulation. Whatever view we take about those events, can anyone say that it was mistaken policy on the part of the Observer, feeling passionately as the editorial staff did, to take the line it did over that affair, though in terms of circulation it was to prove costly? That is the sort of point that occurs to me when I consider the right relationship of editorial policy and efficient management. I also believe that a right policy editorially can compensate for less efficient management, but the two must be considered together.
Secondly, there is the importance of high-quality journalism. I agree very much about the need for high-quality journalists to be responsive to the needs and concerns of particular categories of readers whom a newspaper is trying to attract. I regret that we have not heard the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) in this debate, as he has written on this theme in Encounter with considerable force.
Thirdly, many hon. Members have spoken of the need to end inefficiency in production departments. There has been much reference to over-manning. I shall not add to what has been said on that. One of the most revealing and disturbing findings in the E.I.U. Report concerns the earnings structure of newspapers. On page 96 of the first survey it says that it is disquieting to find that:earnings do not bear a direct relation to the content of a job, nor to the skill and effort necessary to accomplish the job".There are all kinds of further details which I have not time read to the House now. For example:Basic rates, though low compared with prewar levels, have ceased, for most offices, to have any real meaning except for determining overtime payments ".The earning structure of the industry is obviously highly unsatisfactory.
In reading the Report one feels that the whole nomenclature of trade union organisation as revealed in it has something of an old-fashioned ring. For 1775 example, a journalist to whom I spoke today—a distinguished writer on The Guardian—told me that he once found a letter on his desk addressed to "The mother of chapel, The Guardian cleaners' chapel". Some of this nomenclature sounds rather Rochdale-like.
§ Mr. Roebuck
It is not Rochdale-like, but refers to the time when printing was carried out in Westminster Abbey. That is how the title "Father of the chapel" arose and it is an honourable title.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I am not saying that it is not an honourable title, but the hon. Member rather made the point for me when he said that it dates back so far. Certainly on the whole subject of overmanning I welcome the prospect of discussions between the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the trade unions.
Fourthly, and perhaps most important of all is technological development. I hope that on this whole question of efficiency we shall look positively at technological possibilities and not just negatively at problems of over-manning. Hon. Members have mentioned offset printing and the prospects which this gives not only for manpower economies but also for colour and better picture quality. There are great potentialities in typesetting by remote control. I know a little about this from my experience in book publishing where the first prototype of a computer setting machine is already working. I agree about the importance of trade unions having a genuine sense of the need to experiment in modern developments in technology. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that here the Government can give indirect assistance—they could quite properly make grants to research organisations in connection with these new techniques. This would be a perfectly proper operation for the National Research Development Corporation.
I end by emphasising once again the great importance of the Press. Surely, democracy as we know it in the West is bound up with the right to criticism. I believe that the fundamental truth about democracy was stated in Pericles's Funeral Oration when he used those great words:Though we may not all be able to frame a policy, we are all able to judge it.1776 I am one of those who look upon the right to criticise one's rulers—the powers-that-be—as an absolute fundamental of liberty in any community.
While I do not play down the element of criticism and free discussion on television, television will always have something of the element of show business about it. For that reason, a free Press is unique and indispensable. The newspaper industry is indeed unique, yet it must ultimately justify itself in commercial terms. In Britain it has remained largely a proprietorial industry. I believe that the future of this vital industry depends in Britain on the conjuncture of skilled management teams linked to proprietors of drive and vision.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker)
I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) very much for the kind words with which he started his speech and I thank him also for his personal contribution to an admirable and excellent debate. I congratulate him, at this late hour of debate in both Houses, on managing to say something new about the relative impact of television on different kinds of papers. We shall all want tomorrow to read the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great care. It contained a lot of important points.
Unlike the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), who said that he had heard one hour of our debate, it seemed to me that our debate was better, less hysterical and better-balanced than the debate in another place, which suffered from being too close to the problems that it was discussing. Everybody got all nervous about it and sounded as if everything would collapse at any moment. It was in particular all those whom the hon. Member was praising—all the men who knew everything about the industry—who contributed most to the neurotic atmosphere of that debate.
We, like the whole of the country, are concentrating our minds on this subject because of two events. One was the merger of The Times and the Sunday Times. I cannot see that there was any other possible solution that combined the independence and the viability of The Times. I know that everyone will agree 1777 with me in wishing the new editor, Mr. William Rees-Mogg, very well in this honourable and onerous task that has befallen him.
The other event was the Economist Intelligence Unit Report. It is to be noticed that it was only after great reluctance that the Press decided to apply to itself the kind of standards that it applies to all other institutions when a report is issued, And it decided only very slowly and reluctantly to publish and be damned. By many of the conclusions it was rather considerably damned.
None the less, it is fair to say that I do not think there is any other industry which, if subjected to that kind of scrutiny, would have come out any better. Many industries might well have come out worse. That is no defence for the Press. The Press has the searchlight on it and it must act to avoid the appalling prospect opened out by the E.I.U. Report that within a decade three national dailies and one national Sunday paper may disappear. The stark description of the causes of this is that approximately half of the industry is running at a loss and costs will rise faster than revenue over the next five years. That is a critical position.
Plainly, newspapers cannot make a loss and long survive, but it is important to remember that this does not imply the converse proposition that the purpose of a newspaper must be to maximise profits. I find a rather alarming tendency, as a number of my hon. Friends do, to treat a newspaper just as though it were another product like shoes or motor cars out of which one should make the maximum profit. One of the criticisms of the Economist Intelligence Unit Report is that it laid insufficient stress upon what one might call the creative side of the production of newspapers.
National newspapers of the kind we know in this country are unique and they are not just another commodity. No other country, I believe, has national newspapers in our sense, newspapers selling all over the country. It is this aspect of our national Press that gives us in very high degree a variety of papers each with its distinctive characteristic and each more or less catering for special sections of opinion. In the United States and else- 1778 where—how right the right hon. Gentleman was to emphasise how much better off London is than any other capital in the world—the normal pattern is to have only one or two newspapers, and often only one, in quite big cities so that each newspaper has to appeal or attempt to appeal to all sections simultaneously. They may have regional distinctions one from another according to the part of the country in which they appear, but they are much less differentiated in appeal than our newspapers and less distinctive in what one might call their political and social character.
It follows that the disappearance of one of our national newspapers must, by the very nature of things, deprive an important section of opinion of a newspaper which is directed to that opinion and in some sense, because that section of opinion has been buying it, catering for that opinion. This is why the disappearance of one of our great national newspapers cannot wholly be made up by the remainder. Indeed, there seems to be a correlation between the disappearance of a great paper and an overall drop in circulation. After the News Chronicle went there was a drop particularly in the popular papers which has never been recovered.
This reason, the uniqueness of our national Press and the distinctive character of each national newspaper, is the real reason why it is essential, if possible, to keep the existing number of newspapers and why the going of any one would be a grave loss.
A number of hon. Members opposite somewhat exaggerated the effect of the squeeze on the present plight of newspapers. As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said, it is easily demonstrated that this is not the real cause. The News Chronicle and the Star went long before, and so on. What happened was that the squeeze, which certainly has hurt newspapers by reducing advertising revenue, revealed the underlying malaise and causes of the troubles of the Press. If one wishes to look for an immediate cause, though I think that even this only revealed an underlying cause, it was the coming of commercial television which had a far greater effect by abstracting advertising from the newspapers.
1779 I agree with much that the right hon. Gentleman said, but I endorse specifically in this connection his comment about television—that is, television as a whole, not just commercial television. Television does not, I think, hurt the newspapers as a competitor, though it may by taking advertising from them, but it has changed the nature of the Press by inducing it, or at least the better Press, to be more of a background Press carrying stories to explain at greater length what lies behind events. On the whole, those newspapers which are doing this are doing better. When the Daily Mirror changed five years ago or so, it was to make this kind of change, and I think that those papers which do not understand this are doing less well.
There has been a lot of talk about overmanning and labour relations in the industry. It is disturbing that little progress seems to have been made between the Shawcross Royal Commission of 1962 and the Report of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
I must point out to the hon. Member for Louth because he exaggerated this factor, that it is clear from all the reports that even if the over-manning, restrictive practices and so on were all removed that would not solve the problems of the Press. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would help."] I was going to say that. The hon. Gentleman almost said that it was the one thing that was ruining the newspapers. None the less, this, is an on-cost to the industry that it cannot now afford.
To solve the whole problem there must be a number of remedies. Some practices by unions cannot be defended, but I was very interested and glad to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) who explained how and why many of the demarcation problems and so on had occurred in a historically developing situation. The unofficial last-minute strike to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to as blackmail—and that is what he was referring to—must be totally condemned. On the other hand, there has been great progress in this, which gives good hope for the future. There have been considerable strides towards amalgamation of the printing unions, and I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South said about 1780 how pleased he would be if there were a single union.
§ Mr. Wilkins
May I correct that? I said that the National Graphical Association is now on record as saying that it favours one industrial union—not a merger of unions, but a new industrial union for the printing industry.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I thank my hon. Friend very much. That would please me perhaps even more.
There has also been the merger of the N.U.J., in which I have carried a card for some 20 years, with the Institute of Journalists. Most important of all in this field, the trade unions joined with the managements to set up the Joint Board under the chairmanship of Lord Devlin, who has given signal service to the Press in that and in his capacity as Chairman of the Press Council. The Joint Board is a great development in the industry which many other industries could copy. The Press is ahead of many other industries here. It commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit's Report at a very considerable cost of £47,000, and is now considering the report.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) pointed out, if one talks about over-manning one must remember that the editorial and other departments, and indeed the boards of directors, are sometimes also over-manned. We must also remember that the basic cause of over-manning and restrictive practices in this or any other industry is fundamentally and finally due to sloppy management.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I suppose that my hon. Friend would say that that was true of a staff of a half a million or something. We have to draw the line at some point.—[Interruption.] The E.I.U. Report may well be wrong in this respect but I was quoting what it said.—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It is not the Bible, and I criticise it in many ways. It may be wrong in this respect. I was quoting what it said.
I think that poor management is the prime cause when unions take advantage of situations and push on and establish positions. They are not really to be blamed; it is much more the management that should be blamed.
The hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) made a very courageous and frank speech about the strictures that have been passed on the industry by—not the Bible—but this important Report. I was glad to hear what he said. If that is the attitude of management to the Report, it gives one greater hope still in the future of the industry. The right hon. Gentleman and others are right in saying that the greatest need of all is for training in management, and we will certainly look into the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
The critical challenge that seems to me to be facing the industry and on which its whole future depends is that there is a combination now of an over-manned industry facing tremendous technological change. Indeed, if the newspapers had not invested so much capital in things which are now slightly obsolete, these technological changes would come even quicker. But they are going to come—facsimile reproduction and the other processes we have been hearing about.
It is the combination of over-manning with imminent technological change that has created this sense of insecurity in the labour force in particular but also among journalists. If the industry is to solve this problem of how to accommodate technological change smoothly—and its whole future will depend on this, I believe—management has to make a far closer study, ahead of time, of the effect 1782 of technological innovation on the total employment and its pattern.
Many of the Reports bear out that management has really been very defective in this. It has not thought far enough ahead to when technological changes are to be made. Management must realise that only if the feeling of insecurity is removed from labour is there any hope of the adaptability and the co-operation of the unions in the great changes which lie ahead. It is worth, in the end, spending money on this rather than have the extra cost which would come from a resentful and defensive labour force.
If there is to be technological change, it must be accompanied by a great increase in training and retraining schemes for the labour force and also for training for management. The Reports all seem to show that management here has been very slow in organising day and block release schemes and so on. It should pay much more attention to this.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has authorised preliminary talks for the setting up of an industrial training board for the printing industry. Unfortunately, I cannot give a date yet because it is always difficult to decide how one demarcates an industry for which such a board would work, but it will come into being and when it does it will help the industry to meet the tremendous challenges before it.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the present newspaper and printing industry—it has not been mentioned in the debate—is the marked increase of printing imports because of the work done abroad for the British market. It seems to me a shameful thing that the colour supplements of the Sunday newspapers are mostly, if not all, printed abroad because we either cannot do it as cheaply or we have not the technical means. It may be the latter reason. If so, it is very bad. [HON. MEMBERS:" They used to be."] I thought—
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I thought that the Sunday Times colour supplement was printed abroad. I am very glad if I am wrong. None the less, though that 1783 example is not right, it is true that a great deal of book printing and colour printing is being done abroad. The printing industry merges into the two here.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
The right hon. Gentleman cannot make these remarks about the colour supplements in the Sunday newspapers being printed abroad. So far as I know, not a single one is.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I will withdraw what I said. I stand corrected and am glad to be corrected. I am happy that, in this respect, the industry is much stronger than I thought it was.
There is the question of certain outside methods of helping. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South wanted Government advertising to be differently distributed. I must say that I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dun-woody) and Uxbridge (Mr. Ryan) that it really is not possible to do this, as advertising must be done on the basis of effectiveness, with expert advice, and one could not begin to make the kind of political decision that one would have to make if one discriminated. Incidentally, if it were done by one Government, it could be reversed by another. This would be too dangerous a position.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Are not the Government helping the strong against the weak, instead of vice versa? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Board of Trade is having a campaign to get local factories set up, and is not spending a penny on the Sunday Citizen, which through its contacts through the C.W.S. could provide many new factories?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Whether a particular newspaper should be used for this purpose is not for the Government as such to decide. It is something for the Government's expert advisers to decide. An expert might be wrong, but it is not for the Government to run the risk of making political decisions of this kind.
The same consideration applies to the proposal for a public corporation. Such a public corporation, I understand, is not to be for the purpose of printing papers but to provide the machinery for that purpose. In the last resort, it, too, would have to discriminate between one lot of 1784 newspapers and another. It would not provide printing for all newspapers, but for those which were weak or in difficulties. It would have to pick and choose. I do not see how a public corporation could do this any better than the Government, and I am sure that this is not something which a Government ought to do.
Although there is no possibility, or at any rate, no justification for direct Government intervention, there are certainly things which a Government can do, or refrain from doing, which would indirectly damage the Press. I am sure that commercial and local radio would very gravely hurt the provincial and local newspapers, and that a second I.T.V. channel would hurt the ordinary national Press by taking more advertising from it. Some hon. Gentlemen who stand up for the great future of the Press and who want these other things, are contradicting themselves.
Although the Government cannot intervene in these matters in any sense of discrimination, Parliament can play a very important part in this. This kind of debate helps to bring to bear upon the Press the pressure of public opinion which helps it to solve its problems. I am sure that if it was not in the glare of public opinion, if it was isolated and cut off from the public's knowledge of what was going on, it would find it much more difficult to adapt itself, as it must, and to modernise itself.
All sections of the Press must realise that it is in effect on public trial at the moment, and that in modern conditions it depends upon public judgment. The Press is no longer, as it was, immune from competition at home. Radio, magazines and all sorts of things are competing with it. If it does things which public opinion will not easily bear, such as allowing great newspapers to disappear, or to treat itself too much like a commodity, without realising that newspapers must be run with social, political and responsible purposes, in the end it will suffer in public esteem, and there will then be a steady decline in general circulation.
This debate has been extremely valuable. I hope that debates of this kind will become a feature of our proceedings, because it is extremely important for the future of the Press that 1785 no longer, as in the past, should public opinion be only something upon which the Press works, but that public opinion should also be something which acts upon the Press.
§ Mr. William Whitlock (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.