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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.