§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
It is a change to be able to begin an Adjournment debate at such an early hour of the night. It gives me great pleasure to raise this subject on the Adjournment. I should at once declare an interest as an occasional contributor to the Scottish newspapers.
Concern about the future of the newspaper industry in Scotland is widespread following the announcement by Beaver-brook Newspapers Limited to close the Glasgow operations of the Scottish Daily Express and the Scottish Sunday Express and to cease publication of the Glasgow Evening Citizen. The ceasing of publication of the Evening Citizen will bring pain to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who used to regale us in it every Friday night with a special article.
At the outset of the debate, I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) and other Members, of all parties, have applied themselves to the immediate crisis facing the industry. I include in that compliment the Member for Cathcart.
§ Mr. Sillars
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) asks a pertinent question. Exactly where are the representatives of the Scottish National Party? I understand that on Saturday that party sent a representative to a rally of workers in Glasgow and that its representative addressed the men. Those men will be disappointed to know that the Scottish National Party is not represented in the Chamber when we have not just half an hour, but a considerable time to discuss this matter. I see that several Scottish Nationalists are now arriving, somewhat late.
I shall concentrate on the problems of the Scottish Daily Express, the Scottish, Sunday Express and the Glasgow Evening Citizen. I shall widen the debate to consider the future of the industry as a whole, with special reference to the Scottish national newspapers printed in Scotland.
382 Our concern about the newspaper industry is about the substantial number of jobs that will be lost and the contribution that the Press can make to our democracy. I shall dwell on the immediate problem presented by the imminent closure of the three papers that I have mentioned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Provan has said, it is a disgrace that the management of the Express group should take a closure decision of this magnitude without adequate consultation with the trade unions and with the minimum notice to employees.
The Express group has never been shy of criticising others. If any other major employer had acted in this way, we may be assured that the Scottish Daily Express would have carried articles full of acid comment about the need for modern management to recognise its responsibilities to its workers as well as to its balance sheet. If a trade union had acted in such a high-handed manner, perhaps even Cummings the cartoonist would have been employed to give added point to the condemnation that the group would have heaped on the wrongdoers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Small) received a letter from a constituent employed by Beaverbrook Newspapers Limited. It is dated 20th March. My hon. Friend handed it to me this morning. The letter illustrates clearly the feelings of the working people involved in the closure. It says:Last night we were presented with redundancy terms offered by the firm and it is a paragraph in these terms which I would be grateful if you would peruse and form an opinion on.He then quotes the redundancy terms, which are as follows:It is our aim that a further cash payment of one week's average earnings for each year of service will become payable on 1st January 1975 to everyone who is under 65 at that date. This payment will be dependent upon normal production and distribution continuing in London, Manchester and Glasgow until the end of the month and thereafter in Manchester and London.My hon. Friend's constituent then makes a point that has previously been made. He says:It seems that the above, especially the sentence which I have underscored, constitutes a form of industrial blackmail of the very worst form. How can a restriction or penalty clause be inserted in an agreement of this type 383 over which we in the Glasgow office will have absolutely no control if this office does close on March 30th as threatened. It also means that trade unionists in both London and Manchester offices will have the millstone round their neck in any negotiations which they enter into for the next nine months that they may be denying brother trade unionists of a considerable amount of hard cash.That letter perfectly illustrates the feelings of the men involved in this situation. Whatever the outcome of the crisis, Sir Max Aitken may be assured that in Scotland no one will ever regard his lectures to the nation on the conduct of affairs as worthy of much attention.
The Aitken family has spent two generations lecturing this country on how it should run its business. They have done so from the secure position of Press power without responsibility. The first time they have come face to face with responsibility in a very difficult situation, in which they have had to take decisions with consequences, as opposed to commenting on the decisions of others, their performance has come nowhere near the high standard that they have always demanded of others, especially of Labour Ministers.
It is obvious that the Express group has for some time been determined to leave Glasgow and shift its operations to Manchester and London. I have a hunch —no more than that—that such a move is only the first stage in moving all operations to London, and I would caution the Express workers in Manchester to be wary of the future. It seems to me that in Mr. Jocelyn Stevens, deputy chairman and managing director, the Express group has a regional asset stripper who will not rest content until he has feathered the London nest at the expense of the rest.
I am not impressed by the fact that the Scottish Daily Express and the Scottish Sunday Express will continue to circulate in Scotland, although printed in Manchester. The Scottish Daily Express, the self-styled, "Voice of Scotland", will have difficulty in keeping readers when we all know that it will only be an echo from Manchester, with a news deadline so much advanced into the evening that it will quickly become no more than a Scottish regional edition of a basically English newspaper. Neither Mr. Stevens nor anyone else seriously expects the Scottish Daily Express and the Scottish 384 Sunday Express to do other than die a natural death from increasing irrelevance in the news content and consequent falling readership.
It is clear to me that the Express group management has no intention of saving the Scottish papers and the Scottish jobs that go with them The lack of consultation with the unions, the extremely short notice given to employees, and the closure announcement leaving limited time for counter-action, all point to a management strategy designed to deny the precious time needed in which a saving operation could become successful
This closure means that we are faced with a job loss of about 1,800 Most if not all of these jobs are specialised, and it will be impossible for many of the people involved to find alternative work. Scottish unemployment is already generally high and it is very high in the greater Glasgow area. We simply cannot afford a job loss of this size in that area.
If the Express group will not attempt to save its Scottish operations, the Government must be prepared to step in. I know how ironic it is to ask a Labour Government to maintain the existence of these newspapers, all of which are noted for the rough treatment that they give to the Labour Party and the trade union movement, but the editorial policy of the Express papers should not blind us to the fact that the workers whose living standards are at risk are the most important factor. There is also the question of the need to have more newspapers, or at least no fewer newspapers, so that the diverse views of a genuine democracy get full expression.
The workers involved are trade unionists and entitled to our sympathy, concern and action to save their jobs. I do not regard the workers employed by the Express newspapers as different from any other workers employed by private enterprise. They are trade unionists affiliated to the Scottish TUC, and most of them to the British TUC, and they therefore are, to my mind at least, people who should get the maximum consideration from a Labour Government.
As the closure date moves nearer—it has already passed for the Scottish Sunday Express—it is apparent that the 385 solution will have to be radical. This is the sort of situation that calls for the kind of imaginative, radical policies that Labour told the country during the recent election were required to tackle the problems that we were bound to face in a Britain in crisis.
What I suggest to the Government is that they make one final and urgent effort to assist Beaverbrook Newspapers to save its Scottish operation and then, if that fails, to act, or to legislate—and I know that on an Adjournment debate I cannot ask for a Bill, so I will simply put it on that basis—to save this operation and the three newspapers concerned.
In the event of Beaverbrook Newspapers giving a final "thumbs down" to the idea of remaining in Scotland, the Government should bring in a Bill, or take administrative action, to take the Scottish operation into the ownership of a newspaper trust, with control of that trust vested in a policy board drawn from the workers employed by the three papers. Government action could lay out a scheme of policy control and executive management on the two-tier board system of industrial democracy about which there is so much talk at present—that is, a top-tier policy-making board and a second-tier executive board to give effect to policy decisions and to handle the day-to-day running of the company's operations.
The Government could take the necessary action to give the trust adequate launching aid and ensure that policy-making lay in the hands of the trust's policy board and that it was not subject to interference or control by the Government. This would be a new kind of newspaper ownership in this country, and I suggest that it would be a better kind. I know that many people back away from the idea of direct State help to newspapers, because they fear that where Government money goes, so does Government control. That is not always so and it need not be so if Parliament wills differently.
This year in Scotland alone, thanks to the wisdom of a Labour Government, we shall pump £40 million into firms through the regional employment premium. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) is absolutely delighted at having gained a victory earlier this afternoon at the end of his long campaign for the retention of REP. 386 As well as the money from REP, many more millions of pounds will be pumped into industry in Scotland through the Industry Act. The REP payments will carry no Government control, and I suggest that very little control will follow money granted under the Industry Act. That proves that Government money need not necessarily march in hand with Government control.
If anyone needs further evidence, he should look at the Swedish example. The Swedish Parliament helps to subsidise Swedish newspapers and no one suggests that it has ever intervened in or interfered with the editorial policy of any Swedish newspaper. There are, therefore, ample precedents for such use of Government money in this country, and there are precedents in other Western democracies.
The type of action that I am suggesting properly implemented could ensure complete editorial freedom from Government for these newspapers. Given that we are a minority Government and that such a measure would have to command all-party support, we may feel sure that this Parliament is capable of framing a measure to save jobs and preserve editorial freedom, not, I hasten to add, that anyone in the Labour Party would wish to do otherwise.
Such action as I have suggested would have great benefits. First, it would save 1,800 jobs and three newspapers which, whatever I may think of their political policy, are good newspapers in the technical sense. It would also stop the emergence of a monopoly Press power, something of great concern to those who recognise that monopoly of comment through the Press is bad for the health of a democracy.
Such Government action could not be classified as assistance to some lame duck, because the Scottish Daily Express and the other two newspapers, while not commanding the readership of former years, are nevertheless products that many people want. The circulation of the Evening Citizen is still 162,000, while the circulation of the Scottish Daily Express is more than 550,000. It sells around 20,000 copies a day more than it sold six months ago. One in every 10 people in Scotland buys this daily newspaper and it is read, according to the Sunday Times. in 44 per cent. of Scottish homes.
387 To save these newspapers would therefore be meeting a need in Scotland. If no action is taken that need will not be met, because we shall have allowed an asset stripper to strip an essential part of the Scottish Press. It would be crazy economics for an industry to take the axe to a daily newspaper with a circulation of more than 550,000 in a population of only 5 million.
The circulation figures that I have given, and my last comment, bring me back to the wider subject of the help of the Scottish newspaper industry. The question that lurks in the back of everyone's mind is "If the Express group cannot hang on, how many more Scottish newspapers are either in trouble now or about to run into trouble?".
Under the present system of newspaper economics, the health of the industry is determined by the amount of advertising available and the industry's ability to absorb costs on essentials such as newsprint. There are few activities that reflect the vagaries of the economy with as much accuracy as does the advertising world.
For our newspapers to be tied too firmly to success or failure in attracting advertising is to invite the kind of closures that we have witnessed over past years. Several hon. Members are readers of the Labour Weekly, and they will know that a table was published in Labour Weekly at the weekend showing that since 1954, 30 major local or national newspapers in the United Kingdom have died through merger or closure. As we are now moving into a period of considerable economic difficulty, it is a fair bet that advertising will become more difficult to capture and that the economics of our newspapers will get worse—it is unlikely that they will get better.
Added to that problem, newsprint costs have gone up from £74 per tonne to £114 per tonne. An immediate Government inquiry is needed into newsprint costs, as there have been mutterings in Press circles about monopoly control of the newsprint market and abuse of monopoly power to weaken certain rivals.
There are good grounds for asking which Scottish newspapers are either in trouble or about to face severe problems. 388 It is essential to maintain the number of national, evening and Sunday newspapers serving the various areas and voices in Scotland. It would be a tragedy not only in terms of jobs, but in terms of the quality of our democracy if we were to lose any of them.
I want the Government now to appoint a Royal Commission on the Scottish Press to examine the economic condition of the industry, its management, its independence and the rôle it plays in Scottish society, and to make recommendations on the steps required to improve its internal democracy, its economic viability and on what rôle public assistance can play in maintaining the present number of newspapers while providing cast-iron guarantees of absolute freedom from Government influence or control.
The simple facts are that our present methods of running the Press of Scotland that have been tolerated for so long are no longer adequate if we are to preserve what is left of the Press of Scotland. I would argue, notwithstanding the political bias of the Scottish Daily Express, that it would not be good for our democracy to enter a new phase of monopoly domination of popular newspapers, to be followed perhaps by monopoly domination of the so-called quality field, if some other newspaper, perhaps tied, like the Express, to the empire of someone whose main interests lie outside Scotland, were also to run into insuperable economic and financial difficulties.
There is the short-term need to save the three newspapers now under the axe, and the long-term need to put the industry on a sound economic footing, with public help if need be, and to base its operations on greater democratic control, with responsibility to a policy-making, body within Scotland. I trust that the Government will look carefully but quickly at the ideas that I have put forward.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
The whole House welcomes the debate and congratulates my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) on being fortunate enough to have a couple of hours for his debate. My hon. Friend put forward some interesting ideas. I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), 389 who has been one of the chief protagonists in Scotland in backing the workers in the Beaverbrook Press in their opposition to the closure. We have been active in this matter both inside and outside the House.
The strange thing is that little information has been made public and few of the facts are known. There has been a lot of speculation in the last week or so, and a little more information has emerged. One of the difficulties to be faced is the lack of knowledge about what, if any, proposals have been put before the Labour Goverment, or, indeed, before their Conservative predecessors. I shall return to this topic later, because there are certain questions that must be asked.
The feeling of despondency among workers in Albion Street cannot be overstressed, not just because of the high unemployment in the area—unemployment that is higher than average—but because in many cases the employees are highly skilled specialists and there is for them no alternative or comparable employment in the newspaper industry in Scotland. Despite rumours in the past, many workers have taken the view that the Beaverbrook organisation has been in trouble for some time, but there is a definite air of finality when a worker receives his redundancy notice giving him only 10 days in which to tell his wife that the mortgage payments and the money to run the family car will still have to be found in some way or other. This sort of news will obviously mean a drastic upheaval in the personal living standards of 1.800 Scottish families.
My impression, having spoken to many of the people in the area who are affected, was one of shock. Although there may have been rumours and speculation in the past, those workers were entitled to better treatment and should have been afforded more time to allow them to adjust their personal lives, quite apart from any question of the financial effect in the industry. I fully support the views that have been expressed about worker participation in the industry. I shall come to that point a little later in my remarks.
The workers in Albion Street are not wild militants who are trying to bring down the capitalist system. They are workers who are genuinely protesting 390 against the inefficiency and injustice of one part of the capital system It is hard to take what has happened from a newspaper which has constantly told the public that only those with a proper business experience in running a company can hope to succeed in a commercial enterprise. We have heard this sort of message from a newspaper which has campaigned on many issues and which has often been wrong politically. That newspaper may even have been wrong about the Common Market, although I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire will agree with me. I do not want to be controversial, but in political terms that newspaper has often been wrong. Running through the message of the newspaper concerned has been a contempt for labour and the trade union movement. It has been made clear that unless one is on the other side of the fence, one cannot even run a local council—quite apart from running a Government or a business venture.
This evening we are discussing one of the most inefficient and incompetent managements in the newspaper industry. There is general agreement—I say nothing of the way in which it has treated its workers, even at local level—that the local management has not enjoyed the confidence of the workers. One has to make allowances for the almost universal attitude by workers that the boss is seldom right, but there is a lot of truth in what many workers are saying about the local management. When things go wrong, it is typical for management to blame individual workers.
Management blames the rising cost of newsprint. It blames the railway dispute. It blames the trouble in the mining industry. It blames all sorts of factors which are common to other newspaper proprietors. When people do that they are attempting to cover up their own deficiencies.
I wish to put a number of questions to my hon. Friend, because an inquiry is needed into the background. Were there previous requests to increase prices? If so, when were they made? When were they allowed? Was there a further request? Was it in the life of the previous administration? When was the application made for approval of the merger? Was anyone fiddling around because we 391 were either approaching a General Election or in the middle of one? Has there been a specific request for a newsprint subsidy? I do not think that that is a starter, but a company in difficult financial circumstances might have found it possible to make specific proposals or to ask for specific help to tide it over. Was any suggestion made about a newsprint subsidy which might have been helpful?
What about the rôle of the banks? Is there any shortage of credit facilities, or is there some way in which the Government have direct responsibility for giving credit facilities if they were asked? Were any specific proposals made? The most practical suggestion to have been made for the short term was the possibility of the Fraser Group taking over the existing Express premises and printing, under its ownership by contract or by some leasing arrangement with the Beaverbrook Group, all the Scottish newspapers involved. My understanding is that the unions are inclined to accept that, technically, that is not possible, given the facilities there, but, knowing that the Fraser Group has to move at some time and that it needs to expand, would that have been possible?
Would it have been possible for the Government to supply assistance? It would have been worth considering if there had been a proposition, with a firm commitment, to extend the premises in Albion Street to make it the centre for the Fraser Group plus the existing Beaverbrook Group. That might quite properly have attracted some kind of assistance under the Industry Act.
In any event, all these matters presumably do nothing to stop the key being turned in the door on Saturday. For that reason the matter is urgent. Is anyone still considering it? In the past week, discussions have been going on. Have they produced anything constructive from anyone where the Government have some responsibility? In saying that, I am not criticising the Government. I doubt whether there is any specific proposal before the Government, but this House and the workers concerned are entitled to information.
The question in the short term is whether there is any way, possibly with Government assistance, that the decision 392 can be postponed, even for a couple of weeks. Can other Scottish interests be found? I have no doubt that there will be some expression of opinion from the Scottish National Party.
I have not observed any great clamour by Scottish interests desperate to take over and make a bid for this group. I regard Sir Hugh Fraser as the best of a bad lot. At least he has some Scottish background, interest and concern. However, I do not see any great clamour by the entrepreneurs in Scotland desperately anxious to take over this group and keep it out of Manchester's control. It is a pity that the matter is not less complicated. The SNP could then say that it was just London control. The fact of Manchester's coming into the matter complicates it. Nevertheless, I have no evidence of any great clamour or rallying round of Scottish interests to have what are basically Scottish papers. I should be delighted if some kind of co-operative effort by the trade unions involved could also attract Government money.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire that in an Adjournment debate one cannot call for legislation. But we do not have much time. Therefore, we require a holding operation to give us the time we need. That is the essence of the matter.
Finally, there has been some agreement —this is not political bias, but it might be taken as such—that if it is possible to set up the IBA for broadcasting, whether sound radio or television, it should be possible to set up something comparable for the Press. It is not good enough that papers like the Glasgow Evening Citizen and the Daily Express should have no obligation placed upon them to be impartial. The Glasgow Evening Citizen would not even allow space to a Labour columnist like that given to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, to air his views. Some papers try to give space for other views, but seldom, if ever, does the Beaverbrook Press.
I hope that from this situation support will grow for the idea of a Royal Commission on the Press which will go into the matter and perhaps recommend ways and means not of Government control, but of ensuring a greater degree of impartiality in the Press. Such a recommendation would give many employees a 393 chance to do their work with greater dignity rather than churn out stuff to which they are often bitterly opposed.
I realise that we cannot always say the things that we want to say. I am not suggesting that we are going into a dictatorial State, but there is no dignity for employees if they are not consulted about editorial policy. This is a matter that sometimes leads us into criticising journalists when we should be criticising the editors and the owners. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart knows what I mean. It suits him, because they churn out rubbish with which he agrees. However, it does not suit the interests of those who wish to undertake their work with dignity.
I am convinced that there is a need to examine the long-term rôle of the Press. However, that does not detract from my conviction that something needs to be done in the short term as a matter of urgency.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), whose initiative obtained this timely debate. I also echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) about time being of the essence.
I have just received a phone call from my friend and constituent, Alistair Mackie, who is the father of the federated chapels in Albion Street, Glasgow. He told me that the employees have tonight decided to try to set up an employees' enterprise involving Scottish industrialists and any Scottish capital that is prepared to help. According to Alistair Mackie, the idea is to float a new newspaper. A feasibility study has been done, and at first sight, at any rate, the accountants are optimistic. The question that arises is that of management consultancy. It will be no news to the Government that if a group of journalists and employees are to do the job they will need all the advice and technical help they can get. I have been asked to inquire from the Government whether any help and advice can be provided on a management consultancy basis.
The crunch question is whether they will have access to the Beaverbrook accounts and the internal operations of 394 the Beaverbrook set-up. I hope, therefore, that in discussions with the Beaverbrook Press my right hon. Friends will impress upon those concerned that if they are not prepared to run a Scottish newspaper themselves they should at least not be difficult, and should allow others to have a go at trying to do so. I ask my right hon. Friends to use all their influence at least to give this venture a go and to get information without which it will not get off the ground.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire eloquently outlined the problems facing journalists, but one must remember the problems confronting printers. Many of them are more than 50 years old and they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to get jobs in our area.
Is the Minister in a position to report on my right hon. Friend's discussions with Sir Hugh Fraser and Mr. Forgie of the Glasgow Herald? It was reported yesterday that they were prepared to put in some finance and perhaps run the Scottish Daily Express. But that would depend upon their getting the titles from Mr. Joceyln Stevens and Sir Max Aitken. Mr. Stevens, perhaps unwisely, has categorically and dogmatically said that on no account will the titles be sold. This is a moral issue, because we get back to the question whether employers are entitled, morally at any rate, if not legally, to prevent other people from having a go at what they themselves are not prepared to do. I wonder whether any discussion has taken place, as some of us asked that it should, on the question of these titles. Perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us that.
What is the Government's view about the future of newspapers, as such, in Scotland, and what is or is not to happen under Section 54 of the Fair Trading Act? This is the business of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. I know that discussions have been going on with her Department. Is my hon. Friend in a position to report on them?
May I ask again about discussions on the question of Reeds? It is not only a newsprint crisis to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire referred, but a tricky issue of monopoly, not only of newsprint but of printing ink. Discussions have been going on, and I ask 395 my hon. Friend to let us have his comments.
Have the Government had any discussions with Lloyds? They are the bankers concerned, and it was their action which precipitated if not the long-term crisis at least the medium-term one.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to report on those sensitive and difficult matters.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and generally associate myself with his remarks. I must declare a small personal interest, first as a columnist for a rival newspaper, albeit irregular, but, more important, as a journalist who started his working life 12 years ago in Albion Street in the Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow.
The freedom of the Press is not the private property of the newspaper proprietors. It is not the plaything of the Sir Hugh Frasers or the Jocelyn Stevenses. It is not the property even of the newspaper workers or of the journalists. The freedom of the Press is and must be the property of the people. It is always a supreme tragedy when any newspaper dies anywhere. It would be terrible for Glasgow, with its current unemployment, and for the men who work in Beaverbrook Newspapers in that city, if the Scottish Daily Express, the Scottish Sunday Express and the Citizen were to fold. No Labour Government could allow that situation to develop in the city of Glasgow.
Three factors must weigh in our policy. The first, clearly, is people—a loss of about 1,800 jobs and possibly another 600 in the spin-off in distribution and in regional offices. It would be a human tragedy for those men if those newspapers were to fold. Alternative employment simply is not available to them in Scotland.
The second factor is the near-monopoly situation being created in the popular Press in Scotland. Other newspapers have pulled back from Scotland, the Scottish editions have been printed from Manchester, and the distinctive Scottish characteristics have vanished. If a monopoly 396 is created in the popular Press that, too, is at the Government's peril and the peril of the newspaper proprietors.
The third factor lying behind the death, the pull-back, of all these newspapers is the dead hand of London centralisation of the media in Scotland, a lack of proper understanding of the newspaper situation, of newspaper economics there, of the Scottish worker and, above all, of the Scottish newspaper worker.
Various proprietors have alleged that the Beaverbrook Group in Scotland is unprofitable. If sales of the Scottish Daily Express were repeated on a Goschen scale throughout the United Kingdom, the Express nationally would be selling 2 million copies more each day. The books of the Beaverbrook Group should be carefully looked at. Within the last few years new high-speed colour presses have been installed in Albion Street to be withdrawn unused to the London Evening Standard. That situation, on the evidence given me by the federated chapels, certainly bears investigation.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
This is an interesting point. Could the hon. Gentleman find out any information about why that was done?
§ Mr. Reid
I was told that it was to do with regional grants.
The allegation was that the decision was taken by a forward planning group which has been established in the Beaverbrook group for the last five years. As the hon. Member for South Ayrshire suggested, the decision has been in the making for considerably longer than the last few weeks; it may well have been in the making for several years. The vice-chairman of the forward planning group said in 1971 that 1974 would be a difficult year. So Beaverbrook management were well aware three years ago that this could be a difficult year for them in Scotland.
Attempts by the trade unions within the federated chapels in Glasgow to form a joint consultative group on the trade union side were not successful. If such a group had been established then, perhaps, both on the management and on the trade union side there could have been the free flow of information which is so desperately needed, especially in the newspaper industry.
397 I call the attention of hon. Members to a few facts about the profitability of the group. The group's pre-tax profits for 1973 were over £1.5 million. I suggest that this may be only the tip of the iceberg, because the 1973 accounts list the value of the group's buildings and land at £8.4 million at cost and £6.7 million in book value. According to the Investors Chronicle of 11th January 1974 there has been no revaluation of these assets for some six years. I suggest that, as the Investors Chronicle says, if just two buildings, the London Evening Standard building in Shoe Lane and the office block in Tollgate, Bristol, were properly valued, the current share price would be increased to £1.05 per share, in other words, quadrupled in value. As recently at 17th March the business section of The Guardian estimated that while Beaver-brook property is valued at £8 million it is, in fact, worth some £50 million. The Guardian says that that is a conservative estimate.
If we compare those figures we come to one conclusion—that this is an asset-stripping operation. It is clearly in the interests of the shareholders to strip assets, even if it means putting property before people, putting property before some 1,800 Scottish workers.
I also draw the attention of the House to one or two trade union facts. Within the last few years in the Express group in Scotland there has been a series of voluntary redundancies. But of what sort? In the editorial sector some 41 men have gone at a cost of £300,000, to be replaced by 43 men. I quote those facts from the federated chapels. Men have gone on redundancy terms of four weeks for every year worked. We now face a situation of two weeks, with—under threat—a possible third week.
I have met young journalists hired by the Express group in Scotland within the last three months. I want to quote from a letter sent by management to one of them:The prospects are bright. The policy of this newspaper is growth.For any management to send that to a young boy who then quit his house, still on a mortgage, and hired a flat in Glasgow only to receive a redundancy notice within the last few days is a scandal. This is contempt for the newspaper workers.
398 Stereo workers giving up secure employment on another newspaper and starting work within the last few weeks have been receiving redundancy money and finding themselves out on the street. That has been the fate of many Glasgow workers, wrongly, within recent years, as many right hon. and hon. Members will know only too well.
I come now to one or two possible suggestions as to what the Government might do in this matter. Firstly, I again associate myself with those remarks of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, but I bring to the attention of the House a copy of a report prepared by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications within the last few months. I quote from the front page of The Journalist, which is the trade union newspaper of the National Union of Journalists. It is reported in The Journalist that the committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Industry and Minister of Posts and Telecommunications approved the following general aims for consideration by Her Majesty's Government when elected. Firstly,To accept the principle of public funding and the channelling of centrally gathered funds.That, I suggest, is the appropriate course of action within the city of Glasgow.
Secondly:To seek, wherever possible, to move away from concentration of power over printing and broadcasting outlets and to decentralise responsibility and diversify outlets.That, again, is immediately applicable to the situation in Glasgow.
Thirdly:To make possible the widest practicable access to the media by community groups and by individuals"—that is, to newspapers and television. I as someone who as a mere working journalist has disagreed violently with the policy of the Express group in times past but has had to work with it would certainly agree with that.
Then:To seek to develop the structures of democratic accountability"—that is the important point—within the mass media and to allow greater influence to be exercised by those who work in them.399 That is another point for the Government to consider.
Further:To guarantee that all significant matters of policy under discussion by the Government on the mass media, and that all key decisions taken in broadcasting or publishing organisations, are made public so that their implications can be considered and are regularly reviewed on the same basis.These are important points which were prepared by a committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
I come, finally, to the situation in Glasgow. The matter is urgent. Unless there is a clear Government voice I suspect that there will be closure on 30th March. Only a clear Government voice can give heart to the 2,000 workers in Albion Street. I look for that Government voice addressed to a city where unemployment is already far too high. I look to the possibility of the Government examining subsidies. I look to an immediate situation in Glasgow and, thereafter, to wider consideration being given to newspapers in other parts of the United Kingdom. When I started on the Express in Glasgow the news editor at the time said to me, "The job of any journalist is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comforted." In this situation it is clearly the Government's job to give real hope and comfort to these afflicted men in Glasgow and to afflict those very comfortable men who think they can get away with it.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
I cannot think of any good reason why I should be saying anything aimed at bringing about the continuation of the Scottish Daily Express. It has been in existence for a very long time and I have never known anyone who worked for it to express opinions of the management of the Express of the type that we have just heard.
Although it may be true that the freedom of the Press is a matter of importance for the whole public, the correct situation was stated a long time ago by Lord Beaverbrook to a Royal Commission. He said that he regarded the Express as his private pamphlet which he had created to carry his point of view and no other.
400 We know that the presses are strange places—a land of prima donnas and super-egos, employing people who might often be wrong but who never seem to be in doubt and who always find a tear in their eye for those who work for the Press in a situation like this but never have sympathy during the time that the Press is working.
I am alarmed, not at the closure of the Express as such, but at the monopoly position that is developing in Scotland. We cannot consider the question of the closure of the Express group of newspapers without examining the effect that commercial television and radio has had on these newspapers. The fact that another vehicle for advertising has been created does not mean that the amount of money available for advertising has increased It merely means that the amount available must be spread a little thinner and that somebody somewhere will perhaps be killed off.
If somebody is to be killed off I do not know that I should regret it if it had to be the Express. At least, I would have to give consideration to that. My regret is for the jobs of those who are employed there. I cannot see their getting jobs commensurate with their skills in any other industry.
The question is how it should be done. It is nonsense to suggest that the Government tonight can suddenly produce a plan to solve the problem. We need to hear the whole truth of the matter, and we need an inquiry into the situation. It is clear that the closure of the Express group of Scottish newspapers has been under discussion for a fairly long period. I see that the Glasgow district secretary of my trade union, Mr. Alec Ferry, said that the matter was definitely raised with the last administration either by the chairman or the owner of the Express group. We have heard nothing about what happened.
This is clearly a matter of secrecy, which needs to be opened up. We want to know what has been going on. I would never suggest to an administration I supported, without knowing all the facts and the background and without disclosing those facts about what had been going on, that they should seek to succour a private industry in this way. If there is the possibility—my hon. Friend 401 the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) suggests there is, and as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) suggested there should be—of a co-operative effort between the workers and some other group, that is a different matter, but I should be against subsidising privately-owned newspapers.
We must, however, remember the growing power of the other group in Scotland —the Fraser group. It involves not only, the Glasgow Herald. The group owns many local newspapers. For example, the Paisley Daily Express is owned by the Fraser group. It enjoys complete editorial freedom and it has been very kind, but one always has the feeling that at any moment, if someone sneezes, the situation will change and the newspaper will no longer reflect the whole breadth of opinion but will become a vehicle for the point of view of the man who owns it. The idea that newspapers owned by private individuals are other than vehicles for the opinions and ideas of those individuals is nonsense. The great weakness of the newspaper industry is that it is the producer of private pamphlets of individuals seeking to bend people's minds to their way of thinking.
We need something much stronger than the Press Council. If we can run the BBC, which is also a vehicle for information and news, there is no reason why newspapers cannot be controlled. I do not particularly want to run them but they could be controlled in a similar way. Therefore, while it is important that we carry out an immediate rescue operation, if that is possible, we should not do it at any price. I should like to see the Government take over all the assets without compensation and produce a newspaper which is genuinely free and which reflects the point of view of not only the people it serves but those who work on it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Dunbartonshire, East)
We all have particularly in mind three questions—about the jobs, the resources of the newspaper itself, and the whole future of the Press in Scotland. Many people in my constituency work for this group of newspapers, or for other journalistic enterprises in the area, and I am concerned about what will happen to their skills and to their families, and about the effect on their morale.
402 I am sure that the whole House agrees that the kind of notice given in this closure is to be greatly deplored. Perhaps the Government can encourage us to think that the terms under which the notice was given may be improved.
The longer-term question of the strength and the balance of the Press in Scotland has been mentioned. It would be immensely sad if the yawning gap, which looks likely in the Scottish Press, appears.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) regarded a newsprint subsidy as a non-starter. However, the Government have been issuing subsidies of one kind or another fairly freely and price increases fairly freely. Perhaps both are applicable in this situation.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), although he has greater experience than I have in these matters, talked two pieces of arrant nonsense and, in a matter as important as this, that is to be regretted. He spoke about the democratic accountability of a newspaper, and I wondered whether by that he meant Government control.
§ Mr. Henderson
I would have thought that the word "democracy" had an implication beyond the workers in the industry. The readers of the newspaper also have to be considered.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about an imaginary sales scale on which if the sales of the newspaper had been conducted on a particular basis throughout the United Kingdom, the Express group would have been immensely profitable. But that has no bearing on the matter. Surely the profitability of the newspaper is related to the number of copies produced from a given number of presses, or resources, and by a given number of workers. That is what matters, not the proportion of newspapers sold in any given part of the country.
403 We want to know from the Minister whether all possible rescuers of the situation, particularly those based in Scotland. have been approached and have considered whether this desperate situation can be rescued, even at this late hour.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I do not understand any suggestion that there is Ministerial responsibility for a collapse of newspapers. Judging from the scenario described this evening, there is a case for a Fairfield experiment, such as took place after a collapse in the shipbuilding industry. A manager-worker relationship on the formula of the Fairfield experiment could be applied temporarily in this situation.
However, in terms of keeping Scotland tidy in its choice of newspapers. I prefer to read the Daily Express. The reason is that any parent rearing a family cannot leave some of the opposition stuff lying on his table. Sometimes he must walk to the shed if he wants to read it and to prevent young children reading such filth.
If the Scottish Daily Express has anything in its favour, that is its winning aspect, that it presents clinical and antiseptic news rather than the smut too generally accepted as a form of interesting reading material and as a way of making money. If for no other reason, there needs to be freedom of choice. If the other kind of reading material is to have a monopoly, it is a bad day for Scotland.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)
It was inevitable that the debate should centre on the Scottish Daily Express, although the subject of the debate is the newspaper industry in general in Scotland. We are fortunate that the other business of the House ended early, and that thus we are able to discuss for well over two hours what is a most important subject. I should like to deal briefly with some of the problems of the newspaper industry in general in Scotland as well as the problem of the Scottish Daily Express. I acknowledge the expertise of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), but it was rather presumptuous of him to shift the blame, 404 as he did so articulately, from Beaver-brook Newspapers to the Labour Government. The Government have no responsibility for the collapse of Beaver-brook Newspapers. To suggest, as the hon. Gentleman did, that the responsibility was the Labour Government's is to stretch credulity a bit too far.
§ Mr. Reid
If the hon. Gentleman understood me to say that, I apologise. What I said was that the responsibility was clearly that of the management groups in Beaverbrook Newspapers. but I hoped for a responsible statement from the Government tonight which might give hope to the workers concerned in Glasgow, and I said that in the event of no statement being forthcoming some responsibility for the redundancies would be at the Government's door.
§ Mr. Ewing
I am grateful for that retraction. The hon. Gentleman said that no Labour Government could afford to allow the Scottish Daily Express to close. and clearly implied that the responsibility for the newspaper's situation was the Government's. That is not so. But I am not entering into a debate with the hon. Gentleman now. He has had his chance already.
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's bitterness over the Scottish Daily Express. I share it. The hon. Gentleman has had two misfortunes. He worked for the newspaper and, as a member of the Labour Party until seven weeks ago, was, like me, a victim of the propaganda that the Scottish Daily Express puts out against the Labour Party. Therefore, I can understand the hon. Gentleman's double disappointment at the folding of the Scottish Daily Express. The readership of all newspapers in Scotland, and not only of the Scottish Daily Express, is now subsidising the advertisers in those newspapers. That is a dangerous situation which has not prevailed before. The emphasis was always the other way round, in that those who took advertising space in newspapers in Scotland subsidised the readership. It is only over the past year or two that the situation has changed, because of the increase in the cost of newsprint and the decline in advertising revenue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) rightly said that the 405 decline in advertising revenue has been caused primarily by the advent of commercial television and local commercial radio. I am not necessarily criticising those media, but there is only a certain amount of advertising revenue to go round, and it is natural that if television and radio attract advertising revenue, particularly because of their instant impact, there is so much less for the newspapers. That situation must be included in the wide-ranging inquiry for which we are asking.
I turn briefly to the monopoly supply of newsprint. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the matter. I referred to the matter when the statement was made last week. There is a monopoly supply of newsprint and of printing ink. If we are to deal with the serious situation that prevails not only within the Express group but within other newspapers, and throughout the United Kingdom, it is necessary that we should consider that monopoly situation.
For my sins I happen to be the secretary of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group. When we heard first of the calamity that had befallen the Scottish Daily Express we took instant action. We met journalists from the paper as did other parties. That night I sent a telegram to Sir Max Aitken. I asked for delay in the implementation of the decision for at least three or four weeks. That telegram was sent a week ago last Wednesday and to date I have not received an acknowledgment. That is typical of the disdain with which Sir Max Aitken is treating his employees in Glasgow.
The Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group, along with other groups, sought to meet many other people who are concerned with the problem. We have had extensive discussions, as others have had. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) attended a rally in Scotland, as did other hon. Members, to assure the journalists and others who work in Albion Street that the support of the House was behind them in an attempt to find a solution to the problem. All those attempts have been frustrated by Beaverbrook and by Sir Max Aitken. Even the attempt that was announced 406 tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is equally in danger of being frustrated. Beavcrbrook is already on record as saying that the titles of the Scottish Daily Express and the Scottish Sunday Express are not for sale at any price.
The Government should exert the maximum pressure to ensure, first, that the Scottish Daily Express and the Scottish Sunday Express continue to he printed in Glasgow; second, if Beaverbrook does not agree to that, to see that Beaverbrook releases the titles to the employees' consortium which my hon. Friend mentioned.
The men are taking on a monumental task. No one should be under any misapprehension about that. The task which they have set themselves is not easy, and it will not be made any easier if the titles of the papers are withheld and the men have to start publishing new papers with new titles. They require not only management consultancy but a massive public relations exercise to sell the title of a new paper. That is costly in itself. We must begin to think in terms of £5 million before the paper gets off the ground.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire referred to the attempt by Sir Max Aitken and by Jocelyn Stevens to divide the works of Glasgow, Manchester and London. I believe that Glasgow is over the first stage and that for Jocelyn Stevens to say to Manchester and London, "Ditch Glasgow to save Manchester" is a deception of the lowest kind. That is because of the guarantee that in a year's time people will be saying to London, "Ditch Manchester to save yourselves".
We were told when the journalists saw us last week that if the Beaverbrook Press could get a 1p increase in cover charge this would yield £5 million and tide it over the immediate difficulties. Immediately this light began to appear at the end of the tunnel the Beaverbrook Press torpedoed it by saying that £5 million, would mean only a stay of execution. It has been obvious from the start—for many months, perhaps even years—that, no matter what happens, the Beaverbrook Press is determined to close down its Glasgow operations.
407 The impact of closure goes beyond the newspaper world. I have a constituency interest in the matter. The newsprint for the Beaverbrook Press's Glasgow operations, 50,000 tons a year, comes through Grangemouth docks. The closure will not mean a job loss in the docks. They will handle that much less cargo, but, no doubt, because of their keen and outward-looking attitude, the newsprint will be replaced by other goods. But what about the drivers who transport the newsprint from Grangemouth to Glasgow? Many other issues have to be considered when discussing the possible closure of the Beaverbrook Press's Glasgow operation.
One can well imagine what tomorrow's Scottish Daily Express's headlines will be about the new Labour Government, and it is ironic that on Budget night, of all nights, we are pressing for something to be done to save the paper. Listening to the debate, I recall what my father said when I was a small boy. He was an ardent Socialist and used to say that the best thing ever in the Scottish Daily Express was the fish supper. I do not disagree with that view, but it hurts me deeply that 1,800 specialised jobs in Glasgow are to be lost. They cannot be replaced. It hurts me deeply to know that the port in my constituency will have less cargo to handle as a result of a decision taken by Mr. Jocelyn Stevens and Sir Max Aitken.
I believe that we as a Government have a responsibility to examine not only this immediate question but the whole of the Press and its activities, including its forward planning, because I doubt the ability of some of the Press to plan forward. We have a responsibility to make sure that the phase we are going through at the moment will not recur. We have a responsibility to take suitable Government action in order to avoid a recurrence.
This is not an easy problem—if it were, it would have been solved long ago —but Governments are elected to govern, and unpleasant problems very often land in their laps. I have no doubt that, in the very difficult situation in which we find ourselves, our Government will respond, and if, at the end of the day, the Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow does close it will not be the fault of the Labour Government, because the evidence 408 will show that no Government could have tried harder. My right hon. Friends have been involved in discussions with the Beaverbrook Press, and if its Glasgow operations close down the responsibility will be fairly and squarely on the Beaver-brook Press, and Scotland, Great Britain and this House should know it.
I add my voice to the appeal made by so many hon. Members that, as soon as it is humanly possible, the widest-ranging inquiry into the newspaper industry be set up by the Government before we are faced with more tragedies of this kind.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I join with those who have expressed their gratitude to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) for ensuring that we had a good long debate on this vitally important subject. We have had a clear expression of opinion from almost all parties in the House—no doubt the Liberals would have expressed the same view if they had been here. We are deeply concerned about this question and want every possible avenue to be explored.
Although I do not now have an interest in this matter, I once did, because for about eight years I worked for Beaver-brook Newspapers writing a column for the Evening Citizen. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) seems to think that some of those who printed my articles did not find them any more agreeable than some who read them. We are all agreed that even those who have found the opinions of Beaverbrook Newspapers unacceptable, perhaps offensive, to some degree, take the view that it is most important for the health of the Scottish Press that those views should be expressed clearly and that we should have a variety of opinions expressed by the Scottish Press.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown
The hon. Gentleman should not put words like that into my mouth or anyone else's mouth. What we stressed was that we were united in trying to save these jobs and that we also hoped that there might be a greater degree of impartiality. That is slightly different from what the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Taylor
Some of us take the view that different papers interpret impartiality in different ways. I am sure that 409 we could have a debate about various papers, but it would be wrong to talk about the views expressed by a particular newspaper in a debate of such urgency. We are all at least agreed that if something can be done to save these jobs we should do all in our power to save them.
It is no easy problem for the Government. We had a similar problem in Glasgow when there was a desperate situation in the shipyards and all the economic arguments pointed to those yards being plunged into financial disaster. We had to take special action to save them. They are now prospering. While the financial situation in any organisation might appear to be desperate at a given moment, times can change dramatically. If something can be done to bring about a viable future for these newspapers and ensure that they continue to be printed in Scotland, it should be fully investigated.
I have four questions for the Minister. The first deals with the financial plight of Beaverbrook Newspapers. We have had a fairly detailed statement from the company about its opinion of the seriousness of the problem. It has said that if this closure does not take place and if it does not sell the goodwill of the Evening Citizen the whole organisation could go bust within months. This view has been clearly expressed by the company, but many people inside and outside the House have doubted it.
It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether the information given to Ministers, including the Prime Minister, during the discussions that have taken place give any grounds for doubting that this is the position. It is possible that the firm has adopted an unduly pessimistic attitude.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman seems to be asking this question from a basis of pristine innocence. I imagine that he may not know anything about it because he was in office for only a short time. Is it not a fact that when he was in Government his right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the Department of Trade and Industry received approaches from Beaverbrook Newspapers and its hankers, Lloyds? Were they not fully in the picture?Is it not just a little short to pretend that all this has hap- 410 pened in the last three weeks? The former Government knew a great deal about it.
§ Mr. Taylor
I have not pretended anything. I know that some years ago the Glasgow evening newspapers formed the subject of merger talks. I was concerned in speaking to one of the gentlemen involved with that project. That was a long time ago. We all know that there are special financial problems here, because Glasgow is the only city outside London with two evening newspapers.
It would be helpful if the Government would indicate whether they share the view of Beaverbrook Newspapers about the nature of the financial crisis that it is facing.
My second question relates to the merger between the Glasgow Evening Times and the Evening Citizen or the approaches of Scottish Universal and the good will of the Evening Citizen. understand that the merger is subject to Government approval. Under the Fair Trading Act I understand that the merger will not go ahead if the Government do not approve it. Will the Minister say whether that is the position and what are the criteria for deciding whether such approval should be given?
I appreciate that that is not an easy question. If approval were not given cash would not be available from Scottish Universal for redundancy payments for the men who will be put out of work. On the other hand, if approval is given, we appreciate that Albion Street cannot be viable without an evening newspaper as well as a morning one Will the Minister say whether Government approval is required and what criteria are involved in the giving or withholding of approval?
My third question relates to the viability of the Press as a whole. It has been suggested that Beaverbrook Newspapers has been incompetent in getting into its present financial position, but many newspapers are losing a great deal of money, some of them not far away from Albion Street Even firms with new equipment and new offices, and using modern techniques, are losing money by producing newspapers. Certain newspapers are carried by the other activities of the firms which own thems.
411 Much of the difficulty has been precipitated by the increase in the cost of newsprint. I appreciate that Governments and many who are involved in the Press would object to, or regard as a dangerous precedent, a subsidy to a particular newspaper, but the possibility of providing a newsprint subsidy to the Press as a whole which would be of universal application is worth investigating if it would provide a viable solution. That is a new factor which might influence Beaverbrook Newspapers to reconsider the whole position of its operations in Scotland and England, but that solution could be investigated only if we had time. Time is of the essence. Unless there can be a delay in the closure of these newspapers any general arrangement of that sort cannot be investigated fully with a view to solving the problem of the 1,800 jobs.
The answer is for hon. Members and the Government to use all possible influence to try to persuade Beaverbrook Newspapers not to close its Scottish newspapers at the time it has specified, but to delay for two, three or four weeks to enable us to have a full investigation into the question whether a newsprint subsidy could create a viable situation in Glasgow. Any such solution should at least be considered carefully and discussed with Beaverbrook Newspapers.
From our experience of other firms which have been in difficulty—the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders is a good example—it may be said, as the Conservatives said of Upper Clyde, that there is no prospect at any time of the firm being viable, yet circumstances may change dramatically and within six months the firm may become viable because of factors outside normal circumstances.
I am not suggesting that responsibility lies squarely with the Government or with anyone else. Many factors are involved —Beaverbrook Newspapers management, workers and the people who buy the newspapers. Everyone is involved in this tragic situation. It is important not to allocate blame but to try to find a solution which may be the means of saving as many jobs as possible. I hope that the Government will turn their mind to this aspect and will fully investigate the possibility of obtaining a breathing space to enable us to look at some means of pro- 412 viding a secure future for the employment of workers in Beaverbrook Newspapers and also of preventing such a tragic situation occurring again.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Eric Deakins)
Hon. Members in all parts of the House are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) for initiating this debate. It has gone on much longer than anybody expected, but that is not a bad thing in the circumstances.
The, subject of newspapers in Scotland has been brought sharply to our notice in recent days. What is happening is a matter of grave concern to us all. For that reason. I am glad to see so many Scottish Members present, particularly my Scottish Labour colleagues, on this important occasion. We have an unusually large 'attendance for an Adjournment debate when normally the only participants would be the hon. Member raising a subject and the Minister who is to reply.
As my hon. Friend's speech showed, there is a great deal to cause immediate concern in the current developments in Glasgow. The urgency of the situation has been reflected in speeches from hon. Members in at least three parties in the House. I understand the concern, and I shall do my best to deal with many of the issues that have been raised. I shall have more to say about them in a moment. Since we are dealing with the subject of newspapers in Scotland, I shall spend a few moments dealing with the Press of Scotland as a whole.
The market for newspapers in Scotland is a reflection of, and a response to, a readership which has its own unique traditions and character, yet also shares in a wider community. Britain as a whole has a large and varied Press, compared with many other countries in Western Europe, including nine daily newspapers and seven Sunday newspapers. These are national newspapers, but they include Scotland in their coverage and 413 circulate widely, some of them—such as the Scottish Daily Express and the Sunday Express—have a specific coverage in the form of Scottish editions.
Then Scotland has its own morning, Sunday, evening and weekly newspapers. Although it might be invidious to single out examples of particular newspapers, I should point out that both Glasgow and Edinburgh produce daily newspapers whose standing is recognised well beyond the borders of Scotland. The pattern of dailies and Sundays is much the same.
The feature of the British Press which the whole House recognises, is the strength and variety of its local newspapers, which have not figured largely in this debate, which is basically a debate about national newspapers in Scotland. I have in mind the weekly, sometimes twice weekly, local newspaper which, although not ignoring national issues, focuses on issues and events of particular concern to its own community. With the growth of local awareness and aspirations the service that local newspapers provide is of great importance, and we should not forget it.
Scotland has approaching 140 weekly newspapers, serving counties and towns, large and small. There are two groups, which have a number of newspapers running to double figures, the larger amounting to some 20 newspapers, and both are nowhere near being monopolies. I shall say more about monopolies later.
When in 1970 it looked at particular mergers among local newspapers, the Monopolies Commission discovered that two-thirds of Scottish weekly newspapers were jointly owned with at least one other weekly newspaper, but there were no large groups under one owner. In round figures, the total circulation of these newspapers was about one million in a population of 5 million, which is a very good figure. Individual circulations vary between 50,000 and very small numbers.
There is an underlying feeling, which has been behind some of the comments of hon. Members tonight, that gradually newspaper ownership is changing in a way which means more newspapers in fewer hands. This is a large subject and one to which I cannot do justice now. But looking at dailies, Sundays, evenings and weeklies in Scotland and throughout Britain, one sees that there is 414 a wide range of ownership. Some people own quite a few, some a handful and some only one or two. However, it is not meaningful to tot up numbers and to make a judgment on that alone. Being part of a group or becoming incorporated in a group is not necessarily a loss to a locality. A group's resources can help to revitalise an ailing local newspaper.
An important consideration is whether there is editorial freedom and whether such freedom is reasonably assured for the future. The need for this is widely accepted, and there are special statutory provisions which were first enacted in the monopolies and mergers legislation and re-enacted under the Fair Trading Act 1973 to ensure that full and careful consideration is given to all mergers.
To take up a specific question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), the merger approval procedure is laid down in one of the sections of that Act and the Government have a responsibility to give a decision one way or the other on whether there should be a reference to the Monopolies Commission. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, and currently she is urgently considering the merger application which has been made to her.
I turn to the real subject of the debate —the developments in Glasgow which have concerned us all. There are two distinct aspects. The narrower is the merger aspect of the Glasgow Evening Citizen and the Glasgow Evening Times. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection is considering this within the framework of the special provisions for newspaper mergers which I have just mentioned.
The wider and more important aspect is the Beaverbrook group's intentions involving the printing of their two newspapers, the Sunday Express and the Daily Express, in Manchester. It is this that specifically threatens the jobs of 1,800 people in Glasgow.
It is a complicated and difficult story. However, the Beaverbrook group is clear on one matter, namely, its intention to retain the separate identity and character of its two Express newspapers. It is the group's considered commercial judgment 415 that this can be achieved only if the printing is done in Manchester.
§ Mr. Sillars
Is my hon. Friend aware that it is impossible to move the printing and the heart of a newspaper from Glasgow to Manchester and retain the Scottish character of that newspaper? We do not argue on a theoretical basis. Several events of the past point to that being the case.
§ Mr. Deakins
I take my hon. Friend's point, and I have no doubt that the future Scottishness of the Expresses, if they should be transferred to Manchester, will be very much a matter for the Scottish people themselves to judge.
The Express group feels that it can retain the separate identity and character of the two newspapers. I shall not comment on that, since it is very much a commercial judgment.
§ Mr. Reid
At present, edition times in Glasgow are such that newspapers are rolling off the presses day and night. This allows stories to be carried deep into the night. If the printing is done in Manchester, it means that the papers will not carry the news of a fire or a late football story. How can news of that kind be transmitted to the Scottish reader?
§ Mr. Deakins
I cannot answer for the Beaverbrook management. That is between the group and its future readers and those who work for it. However, it is the considered commercial judgment of the group that the separate identity and character of the two newspapers can be retained only if the printing is done in Manchester.
We in the Government have been having long, hard and anxious talks with all the interests involved, including unions and management and in particular the Scottish TUC. This is a serious matter, because we realise what it means for the 1,800 employees faced with redundancy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has taken the closest possible interest and, with the rest of us, has spent much time and effort assisting in these talks.
The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade made a statement on this matter 416 on 19th March and that he has promised to keep the House informed. He will be making a further statement this week. Therefore, I am not in a position tonight to go into all the close and narrow details of the closure, or the projected closure of the printing works in Glasgow. I assure the House that I have carefully noted all the points that have been made, many of which have already featured in the Government's discussions with both the unions and management. However, there are some issues of wider interest with which I can deal tonight.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing
In view of the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about the possibility of an employees' enterprise, will my hon. Friend undertake that this matter will be raised with his right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and the Secretary of State for Scotland as early as possible tomorrow morning in order that it may be given the fullest possible consideration?
§ Mr. Deakins
I have no hesitation in giving my hon. Friend that assurance, without any reservations whatever. We have at all times been willing to consider suggestions as they have come up. Indeed, some have come up only in the past few days because of the speed of events.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is critically important. In addition to what my hon. Friend has said, may I suggest that there should be Government pressure on the Beaverbrook organisation to live up to its moral, if not its legal, obligations not to put hindrances in the way of such an enterprise? Surely it has a moral obligation to open its books and to disclose its internal operations, even if it is reluctant to do so for what appear to be commercial reasons.
§ Mr. Deakins
I shall deal later with the workers' co-operative, which has come up somewhat late in the day. I should like to deal with some of the other points first. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I shall not neglect that.
The first wider observation is the short time between the announcement by Beaverbrook Newspapers of the closure and the projected date of the closure in Glasgow. That point was particularly made by my hon. Friends the Members 417 for South Ayrshire and Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). The time was short, but it was Beaverbrook's considered view that it was necessary to minimise the loss to the group, a loss which would have had serious consequences not only for those who might be losing their jobs, but for the group's future. The action and the short notice is for the Beaverbrook group to defend to its employees. However, it has presented considerable problems both to workers and to those concerned with getting a solution to the problems.
The second matter on which I should like to comment is that of redundancy terms, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. On occasions of redundancy there are certain basic statutory requirements. If the worst happens, what can be done is a matter between Beaverbrook Newspapers and the employees. However, I understand that the group has made proposals which involve using the purchase price of £2¾ million for the Evening Citizen and a good deal more. These are complicated matters and I do not wish to pursue them in detail tonight.
In nearly all the speeches tonight the twin issues of a newsprint monopoly and newsprint prices have been raised. First I deal with the newsprint monopoly issue, raised by my hon. Friends the Members for South Ayrshire, West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing). This issue is more directly a matter for my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and the Secretary of State for Industry. However, I can say that there are only two producers of newsprint in the United Kingdom. Therefore, this is a problem not so much of monopoly as of the prices of newsprint and prospects which have not encouraged investment.
Newsprint production has been barely profitable. In 1973, demand for newsprint increased sharply and world prices rose, and they are still rising, reflecting oil prices and other factors. The newsprint problem is worldwide, but Departments are discussing the availability and supplies of newsprint with United King. dom manufacturers and users.
I now come to the issue of newsprint prices. This, again, is not just a United Kingdom problem but a worldwide one. 418 There has been a large increase in demand in the last 18 months, just, at a time when production in the United Kingdom has been declining. Even against that background, however, United Kingdom prices are, if anything, lower than world prices, though they have increased substantially and, like all prices, could go higher. This is a world factor for the future.
A further point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire was that of public participation in Glasgow newspapers, but this was not pursued by other hon. Members. The Government share the grave concern about the loss of jobs in Glasgow, but the issue of public participation in Glasgow newspapers or in Beaverbrook Newspapers raises some large questions, which might more profitably be the subject of any inquiry that might take place—and I shall come to the issue of an inquiry.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian referred to a workers' cooperative. This is fresh news tonight, that that is what the workers at the Glasgow printing works in Albion Street want. I do not doubt the good intentions behind such a suggestion, but I feel bound to say that it would be a large and possibly risky undertaking which would need to be thought through very carefully by all concerned. I have given my hon. Friends an assurance that the first thing tomorrow morning I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Trade to this suggestion, and the House can rest assured that we shall pursue it as we see fit.
Another matter raised was that of a monopoly in the Glasgow evening newspaper situation. It is a fact that, apart from Glasgow, only London supports two evening newspapers. There have been many mergers since the war. The trend everywhere has been towards a single evening paper. This need not create a real monopoly situation if there is continued competition from weekly newspapers, morning papers and local radio. Some people may even feel that it is better that there should be one strong newspaper, given editorial freedom, than two ailing local newspapers.
I now come to the crux of the debate. Recent developments have focused much attention on Scotland, but the problems 419 that have been illustrated so starkly in the speeches of virtually all those who have taken part in the debate are, unfortunately, of wider application than just to Scotland.
The particular problems of a newspaper industry are known. There is always the question how far an industry can put its own house in order—this came up during the question and answer session following my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on 19th March —but in this case solutions must be based on a thorough examinaion of its own busines by the industry itself, and by that I do not mean merely management. All those who are concerned about the industry, and particularly those whose livelihood is affected, should be involved.
All industries may look at themselves, but with newspapers there is an extra dimension. There is the special problem of maintaining our tradition of a free Press, which is the safeguard for a free society. This has always been vital, but perhaps more so today when it is so much under challenge.
I repeat my assurance that I have noted the detailed suggestions about the closure of the printing works in Glasgow. They will be taken fully into account, as indeed many already have been in the past 10 days of intensive discussions, in the Government's thinking. The Prime Minister said last week that he would consider whether an inquiry was now appropriate. The Government are still considering this matter, but I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take note of the strong sentiments of Scottish Members on this wider issue.
The task for all of us—not just politicians but management and unionists—is to learn from the lessons of the past and the present and then to do our level best to achieve a soundly-based Press, free and independent, which can continue to provide a service responsible to the loyalty of its readers. I am sure 420 that we all share that aim, whatever our differing views on the means of achieving it. If there is to be any inquiry, I am sure that this will be one of its main themes.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would my hon. Friend bear two points in mind? First, if it were simply a question of supplying central Scotland, that might be done semi-satisfactorily from Manchester. But it is a question of supplying, the North and the Borders, and that is not feasible from Manchester. Secondly, many of us on this side would like the Government to be tough with the Beaverbrook organisation in requiring it to live up to its moral obligations. It is not just a question of 1,900 men, but of drivers and people working in the docks in Grangemouth. This closure will ripple around the Scottish economy. Could it be brought home to Beaverbrook newspapers that, whatever their legal obligations, there are moral obligations which would make it totally disagreeable of them to do anything to frustrate the intentions of the employees' enterprises?
§ Mr. Deakins
The feasibility—I am not talking about profitability but about whether it is practicable—of the operation from Manchester is a matter for commercial judgment of Beaverbrook Newspapers, and they must stand or fall by their decision. As for moral obligations, my hon. Friend will obviously expect a Labour Government and Labour Ministers in their discussions with any industrialist on a sad occasion such as this and in such a grave situation to emphasise to employers their moral as well as their statutory obligations. Of course they should not indulge in sabotage. I cannot go into the details of the discussions that have been going on—they were going on again today—but this point will be brought out in the statement to be made this week by the Secretary of State for Trade.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Ten o'clock.