The Press

Oral Answers to Questions — National Finance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1967.

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Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 12:00 am, 7th March 1967

asked the Prime Minister what steps he proposes to prevent the further shrinking of newspaper control into fewer hands; and if he will consider subsidising the supply of newsprint to the less highly profitable newspapers.

Photo of Mr Terence Boston Mr Terence Boston , Faversham

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit's inquiry into the newspaper industry, a copy of which has been sent to him, he will now undertake to appoint an official inquiry into the industry.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I would refer my hon. Friends to the speeches made by my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister without Portfolio in the debate on the Press on 8th February.—[Vol. 740, c. 1663. Vol. 740, c. 1776.]

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Has no action at all followed the recent debate, since when the price of newsprint has gone up by £2 a ton? Does my right hon. Friend propose to do nothing before further closures take place?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I said in January, and my right hon. Friend said in February, that this must in the first instance be a matter for the newspaper industry itself. There is effective machinery for discusison, with representation from both sides. If they have any propositions to put to the Government, we shall consider them. I said in January also that there seemed to me to be no reason why any existing newspaper should have to close in present circumstances.

Photo of Mr Terence Boston Mr Terence Boston , Faversham

Will my right hon. Friend take it that, while we accept the paramount need to ensure Press freedom, many of us feel that further closures would themselves impair Press freedom? Has he completely ruled out the possibility of help for the Press from public sources, with adequate safeguards, if necessary?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The feeling of both sides of the House in that debate was, as I said in January, that there are grave dangers in any kind of public intervention in this way, however carefully one were to erect safeguards against possible abuse. There seems to be no reason why any newspaper should close down. If one were in danger of so doing, if the industry or the newspaper concerned approached the Government, we would then consider whether it was possible to give help while maintaining adequate safeguards.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the newspapers themselves are the last to want State subsidies and State help? Will he agree that the E.I.U. Report, which was commissioned by the industry, coupled with the recent successful talks with The Guardian, are a step in the right direction, and is not the further fact that the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the trade unions are getting down to talk about the whole future of the industry the most hopeful feature? Is it not much better to carry on letting them run their own affairs?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

There has been considerable progress since the turn of the year—I refer particularly to The Guardian discussions and what is now going on—but I think that one danger which all of us feel is that, while newspapers would not want to approach the Government or anyone else for help, sometimes things go on till the very last moment without anyone knowing that a paper is likely to close down, and it closes down, as on a famous occasion, between one edition and the next. This would be deplored by the whole House

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that, in the event of Lord Thomson trying to take over the Sun, he would not condone it?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Any question of take-over within the newspaper industry is now, in terms of laws passed in the House, one on which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade can refer the issue to the Monopolies Commisison to see whether there would be undesirable concentration of ownership.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

Does my right hon. Friend feel that a proper balance is being achieved in the allocation of Government advertising in the Press?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

That matter is continuously being reviewed. It is the duty of those responsible for placing Government advertising to see that it is done in accordance with the best commercial practice, in terms of the best yield in advertising readership for the money spent. We are examining that carefully all the time, and if it were possible to make improvements in the system I would be very anxious to see that it was done.

Photo of Mr Albert Murray Mr Albert Murray , Gravesend

Is it not possible for my right hon. Friend to look again at a levy on Press advertising or newsprint? Before he listens to the voices opposite about the freedom of the Press, will he ask some of the former eight editors of the Daily Mail about it?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The question of proprietorial intervention is not raised by the first part of my hon. Friend's question. My hon. Friend will know that while there have been proposals for levies on advertising, similar to what is already done in commercial television, it is very difficult to draw the line between the big, medium-sized and small papers; and some small local papers which are so essential to local services and the functioning of our democracy might be the first to suffer if that policy were adopted.