Communications Industry

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 26th March 1970

I remind the House that five right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have indicated that they wish to take part in the last 45 minutes of debate. How many get in will depend on the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman), whose debate it is, and the Minister, who has the right to reply.

4.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Moonman Mr Eric Moonman , Billericay

I am prompted, Mr. Speaker, to make the case for an inquiry into the communications industry, because I believe that there is deep concern and anxiety about the control, ownership and influence of newspapers, television and radio. This is why more than 100 hon. Members in the last three years have been prepared to put down an Early Day Motion asking for a Royal Commission to be set up to examine the present and prospective financial structure of the film, television and newspaper industries, particularly for the purpose of making recommendations about what measures must be taken by the Government or bodies set up by the Government to protect and expand the areas of free dissemination of news and free debate.

There have been one or two interesting references to the serious nature of the communications industry within the last few weeks. Indeed, on 23rd March, Lord Thomson, referring to the running costs of The Times, said: the unions have got to make some contribution to this. I cannot keep pouring in this kind of money and have some of it drained way in make-work practices and stupid manning requirements". This is a serious point of view. It is perhaps overstating the fault and the responsibility of the trade unions, but we cannot deny that the trade unions, management and the Government have interests in the communications industry.

In the short time available to me to put the case, I should like to examine the rôles of Government, trade unions and management in the newspaper industry. If my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I think that he will be better equipped to deal with those aspects of communications relating to television and radio.

Another reference which shows up the fragmented nature of the communications industry is the report, published within the last 36 hours, of the "Little Neddy" for the printing industry which points out that, although low profitability seems widespread, many overseas printers have been investing heavily in new plant and equipment. It also says that a big increase in international competition in printing during the 1970s is forecast.

Here we have a reference to publishing and printing very much relating to the whole of the communications industry. I believe, therefore, that the newspaper industry is not just a service industry in isolation, but is interdependent on printing and publishing and on communications generally. Indeed, it has been argued that part of the problem of getting sufficient revenue into newspapers in the last ten years has been because some has inevitably been hived off elsewhere—certainly into commercial television. Therefore, we must look at the industry as a whole.

The Press centres on printing and publishing, which has an annual turnover estimated at nearly £100,000 million, an annual investment of about £40 million, and employs about 400,000 people in 7,500 establishments. Therefore, it is a big industry.

Unfortunately, the problem which confuses the public is why a number of newspapers are so vulnerable—why newspapers like the News Chronicle and the Star closed; why the Sketch and the Sun, selling more than 1 million copies, could disappear before the end of 1971; and why advertising is so powerful compared with other countries. More than 70 per cent. of total revenue of the Sunday Times comes from advertising. In most cases, it is about 60 per cent. of total revenue.

Let me examine the trade union rôle. There has often been criticism of the trade unions for not taking the initiative. I reject this view. I realise that there are many company practices which could be altered, but the National Graphical Association, of which I am a member and which is one of the craft unions, supported the use of consultants to look at management-union practices. The E.I.U. report was not a management report. It was jointly decided to have the inquiry and jointly decided to publish the report. The report which I have men- tioned, the "Little Neddy" which dealt with international competitiveness in the industry, was again a joint operation, and this perhaps was not made sufficiently clear in the Press today. On this Committee there were five trade unionists and five management representatives.

There is also a reference to the way in which the unions have operated in their concern for provincial newspapers. The N.U.J. has asked the Newspaper Society for an inquiry into productivity, plant operations and employee security. There is the question of the future rôle of trade unions, and I have no doubt that a new collective bargaining structure is desirable. I predict that many problems within the unions could be resolved if there were one union for the industry. Perhaps within four or five years this will become reality. It would be wrong for anyone to become hysterical about the inability of the trade unions to put their own house in order. I believe that this will be done. After all, over the last five years a large number of mergers have taken place which would have been unthinkable ten or twelve years ago. I suggest that the observations on the trade union rôle in practice present a different picture from that normally expressed outside the House.

The second part of this relationship concerns management. The E.I.U. points out that management needs to be available. As one who has worked both in management and on the shop floor in the industry, I realise the acute need to have accurate decision-making at night. One therefore has to have a management team that goes right through the operation. The Cameron Report pointed out that management should not exploit the unions, and many references have been made to that. The industry presents problems to management. It is topsy-turvy and there are many scattered units. Of the 7,500 establishments in newspapers, printing and publishing, 70 per cent. have fewer than 25 people. At the same time, there are powerful unions. Of the other 30 per cent. one has assets of over £100 million, two of £50 million and three of about £20 million.

The third part of the relationship is the Government. The Government have been unprepared to make sufficient comment or to offer direction to the industry as a whole. The public and the 400,000 people who work in newspapers and related trades want to know what positive steps the Government intend to take. Many suggestions have been made, but they come down to four, and this is where I believe a Royal Commission or a Select Committee inquiry could decide the most suitable rôle for the Government to pursue.

There is, first, the newspaper subsidy. To overcome the fear of arbitrary Government discrimination or the influence of management activities, a subsidy on newsprint wholly redistributed within the newspaper industry would be an advantage. It would be neither tax nor public subsidy, and the rebate could be fixed to benefit all newspapers with high editorial content.

The second possibility is the setting up of a national finance corporation for newspapers to advance loans at low interest or free of interest to enable newspapers to re-equip themselves to meet the increasing demands of technology. The importance of technology must not be minimised. It is now progressing rapidly in the printing industry.

The third possibility, which is favoured by some of my colleagues on this side of the House, is the straightforward support of Government advertising to help the small circulation newspapers, so as to avoid the absurd situation that one or two newspapers associated with the Left have great difficulties in getting sufficient advertising from the Government sources.

The fourth possibility, the one which I favour, is the Eady plan which is used in the cinematograph industry. It means this would make it possible to redistribute the revenue within the industry and would overcome the problem of Government interference, which I think is an exaggerated fear. With the Eady levy in the cinematograph industry the people who take the decisions and who sit on the main committee are from the industry itself. Although the President of the Board of Trade acts as chairman, he has very little executive control. The Eady levy also means that is. 6d. of the price of the seat of every person who visits the cinema is directed to the producers, a fact which is seldom realised. The Eady levy administered by the Government on the advice of the Cinematograph Films Council enables vulnerable areas of that industry to re-equip and become much more active and lively.

Whichever proposal is most likely to succeed in the context of the newspaper industry, it is quite clear that if we accepted an Eady plan it would mean that the levy would have to come not only from newspaper advertising but also from the other source of advertising—television.

That brings me to the centre of the argument—that if we are to have an inquiry it must consider the whole range of the communications industry. Many people have asked why we should have another inquiry. They say that we have already had many. We have had a Royal Commission. The important fact is that we have not yet had an inquiry which looked at the communications industry in total. That is the real weakness of the attempts that have been made to assess the value and nature of the industry. Some people feel that Government aid means Government control, but there are many examples in which, over the years, Governments have created various structures and given support and encouragement to the arts, culture and other services, and in respect of which no one has suggested manipulation by the Government.

The reports that we have had have helped to clarify union and management tasks. I remind the House that the solution to many of the industry's problems will be made much more difficult without State support and encouragement. It is conceivable that my hon. Friend in replying, will take an opposite view. He may feel that the Government should not interfere or give a subsidy or attempt an Eady plan in relation to the communications industry—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Part of what the hon. Member is suggesting would require legislation. He must stick to his demand for an inquiry.

Photo of Mr Eric Moonman Mr Eric Moonman , Billericay

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was going to say that the important point is that the task of a Royal Commission or Select Committee would be to examine all the possible alternatives to see whether it would be desirable to pursue the various reports that have been published, whether we need further information. Basically, we are looking at the control of industry and the management of the industry, but there is also the question of influences in the industry—and there are doubts about State interference. We need a Royal Commission to sort things out, because we have not had a previous inquiry into the whole of the communications industry. We need a Royal Commission, perhaps, because democracy itself is threatened when the means of communication are vulnerable and at economic risk, when it becomes part of a conglomerate's catch, when it is conceivable that the communications industry—especially newspapers—will be taken over by people with no association with it and no tradition in it, and very little sympathy with it. That is why we desperately need a Royal Commission.

4.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) at quite the speed at which he spoke, but I appreciate the reason for his speaking so quickly; we are all anxious to cover the subject thoroughly and to get home.

The hon. Member has asked for an inquiry into the communications industry—a Royal Commission or some other form of inquiry. I should not be opposed to such an inquiry. Perhaps I should declare an interest. Although I no longer have an interest in the advertising industry, however, I have one in public relations. I want, however, to touch on the advertising aspect and speak in support of advertising in the communications industry. There is a case for an inquiry into the industry. We are all concerned about the problem that faces large and small newspapers and television companies.

We are concerned whether the Press can keep on its feet and remain healthy and viable, free to express its views. An inquiry would be a good thing. When I spoke in the House nearly two years ago, in an Adjournment debate concerned with advertising, I supported the idea that the Government should carry out an investigation into it.

We are talking of very big forces in communications and advertising. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned three possible solutions to the problems facing the Press today. He spoke of a levy on newsprint. This is an interesting solution, presumably to raise money for dis- tribution to newspaper publishers finding difficulties in remaining in business. He mentioned, too, the National Finance Corporation as a possible help, and his third idea of possible support was to do with Government advertising. It is on this issue that I want to say something. Those three solutions are typically Socialist solutions to a problem of communications.

I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite feel concerned that the communications industry is a free one. I do not think that they really want to come in and take over the industry, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio will not suggest that the Government would like to take any form of control. I would resist that strongly. At the same time I am concerned at the weak position in which the communications industry finds itself.

The money that the Government spend on advertising is not something which can be played around with as a levy. It is not a subsidy, it is something which the Government use to support Government activities. The Government say that it is necessary to spend money to find recruits for the Armed Forces or to find recruits for the Police Force or ask people to join the Civil Service or sit examinations in the Civil Service. This is how the Government use their money, and they have to make a wise selection. Advertising is a commodity, and the Government have to act wisely just as any commercial operator has to act wisely over advertising expenditure. It is possible to be extravagant or to be economical.

It would be an unwise move for the Government to step into the industry with any one of these three solutions. I would remind the House, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman, that the advertising industry is often maligned but has a great part to play in serving the commercial interests of the country and the communicating interests of many bodies, including the Government. Advertising in all its forms is a very valuable means of communication. The advertiser can invite people to buy his product, fly in his plane or join his armed forces.

There must be sensible judgment about a communications decision. It costs money to advertise. It is sensible that the spender should be free to make a decision on economic grounds. He is making a specialised purchase, wanting to reach a specialised audience.

For example, it would be wrong to suggest that Government expenditure on advertising should be spread thinly over the media available so that everyone got a crack of the whip, as was suggested at one time by an hon. Member opposite. This is not a sensible, balanced and economic judgment about of how to spend Government, or anyone else's, money. I would refer the House to an answer given on 27th November, 1969, when the then Minister of State, Board of Trade, said: Government advertising is determined in the way judged likely to achieve the best results most economically. I do not think that any other criteria are appropriate".[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1969; Vol. 792, c. 128.] I cannot say more than that because that sums up my case in a nutshell. I would not be against an inquiry, but I would be very much against any form of entry into the communications industry by the Government, or any form of Government control.

4.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) says that he is not attracted by the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman), but he failed to put forward any alternative.

If one advocates a Royal Commission, one must at least give some reasons for its establishment, and one must try to show the problems which such a Royal Commission would have to tackle.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

With an eye on you, Mr. Speaker, and on the clock, I forgot to make that point. The solution which I should favour would be a commercial one. I should agree with Lord Thomson. Let the price of newspapers rise; they are valuable things to purchase. I think that the revenue balance is wrong, and too much comes from advertising.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I did not intend to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to amend his speech, but that is what I have done. Now, in the next three or four minutes, I must get on with my own.

The problem is how to achieve and maintain a variety of outlet. The trouble is that we are not succeeding. Variety of outlet is declining. Therefore, our problem is not so much to attain freedom as to prevent the loss of freedom. We are beginning to see the loss of freedom. We can see it not only in newspapers but in the B.B.C. There is a terrible crisis in the B.B.C., the extent of which is not publicly appreciated, a crisis between the administration and the programme people. There is a serious crisis in independent television, a crisis which came to the surface in London Weekend recently, when there was virtually a walkout of programme people. It is a crisis between finance and administration, on the one hand, and the provision of information, news and programmes, on the other. It is that crisis to which a Royal Commission would have to direct itself.

Such a Royal Commission would need to see the media as a whole. One of our troubles is that we have never done just that. We have never looked at the media as a whole. We have had Commissions or Committees of inquiry into the Press, the B.B.C. and independent television, but never have we said to ourselves: What is the necessity, what is the national need, and what should we do to ensure that the national need continues to be served?

The assumptions upon which the newspapers were founded, based upon continuity of large-scale and ever-increasing competition, are not valid now. We live in an age of monopoly, of a shrinking number of newspapers. So those assumptions, which the hon. Member for Canterbury clearly still holds, no longer coincide with the facts of life.

The principles which are widely accepted in the communications industry are not principles of valid general application. For example, many people believe as an article of faith—I personally do not—that the B.B.C. must remain a single organisation in charge of sound radio and there must be no competition whatever. If that proposition were put forward in regard to newspapers, there would be shouts of horror all round. If the proposition is not valid in one case, it is not valid in the other. There must be something wrong here, and this consideration—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not accept it—would be one of the matters which a Royal Commission would have to examine.

One of the immediately urgent problems is the problem in B.B.C. sound radio. Also, some newspapers, for instance, The Times and The Guardian, are said to be in immediate peril. I, therefore, not only favour the establishment of a Royal Commission but consider that there should, simultaneously and working alongside it, be a Select Committee of the House to act as a sort of fire brigade to deal with problems requiring urgent attention which could not wait the several years which it might take for a Royal Commission to produce its full report. I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal not only with the question of a Royal Commission but also with the simultaneous establishment of a Select Committee.

Another aspect of the matter which has rightly engaged my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is the problem of technological advance. Here is something else which a Royal Commission would have to examine.

Advertising chases the mass consumer, and, in so doing, tends to starve variety and diminish diversity. These are the two essentials of communications, and a Royal Commission would have to try to establish and maintain them.

As my hon. Friend said in his able, if rapid, opening speech, there are several possibilities. Apart from a newsprint subsidy, my favourite possibility is the establishment of an advertising revenue board which would receive all the advertising revenue of all the media and redistribute it so as to maintain multiplicity of outlet and variety of control. We badly need a Royal Commission and a Select Committee, and we need them now.

4.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

In August, 1968, the T.U.C. raised with the Postmaster-General some of the technical aspects of transmission, distribution and switching in television and broadcasting. It asked for an immediate committee of inquiry to make recommendations so as to secure the provision of the most economical and technically efficient service. In reply, the then Postmaster-General—the present Minister for Posts and Telecommunications—argued that such an inquiry should not be held immediately but should await a possible inquiry in 1971. My union—the Post Office Engineering Union—was disappointed that it could not have an immediate and separate inquiry, but I hope that if the Government agree to such an inquiry technical aspects will be included. They are important because there is a great deal of duplication going on and more duplication is likely to occur in future.

At present, the broadcasting authority provides the programmes and transmission while the Post Office provides an interconnecting link network. We should like the Post Office to take responsibility for not only the distribution of programmes but also their transmission. This is particularly so in the local radio field where the Post Office could link local radio stations and there is some spare capacity in exchanges to give facilities for this transmission.

Another important point in this connection is the possibility of private control of broadcasting. If this misfortune came to pass, the ownership and control of the distribution and transmission of all types of broadcasting would ensure public control and avoid the obvious dangers of private interests exploiting broadcasting and television.

The T.U.C. has also called for an inquiry into the relay companies, and has drawn attention to Cmnd. 3520, in which the National Board for Prices and Incomes criticised certain activities of the relay companies. It will be practical soon for radio, television and telephone signals to be carried on one line, and that one line should be a public line. This will avoid expensive duplication and also the unsightliness of a multiplicity of overhead wires.

This is a vast subject and, in view of the time, I shall not pursue it. But I ask the Government to grant an inquiry into the communications industry and to include all technical aspects in that inquiry.

4.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney

I am sure that the House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) for raising this most interesting and important subject on the Adjournment. I fully appreciate—as did other hon. Members—why he spoke with such speed. It was very courteous to make it possible for other hon. Members to take part in this inevitably short debate. It had one slight by-product—a disadvantageous by-product—in that I was not certain that I followed and understood his every single word. However, I think that I got the main gist, and I should like now to comment as far as I can, both on his speech and those of other hon. Members.

First, I think that we are all united—the Government and Members of Parliament—in our great concern to maintain the quality of the means of communication in this country and to maintain the variety so that we get a widespread expression of different opinion and tastes. We are also concerned to secure the independence and impartiality of the different media. Obviously, my hon. Friend and many of those who signed the Motion which stands on the Order Paper on this subject feel that events are moving in a way which threaten either one or all three of these desirable aims—variety, independence and quality.

Let me, first, comment on the situation in the Press and television before I go on to make some direct comments on the proposal that the hon. Gentleman has put to the House. I think that it would be absurd to be complacent about trends in the Press. On the other hand, I do not think that we should be too depressed about what is happening. As my hon. Friends are aware, national newspapers are not a static institution. The market for information is continually changing, particularly with social conditions and educational standards. There are changing rôles for different media including the newspapers. Radio and television increasingly cover "hot" news, but the public demand for serious information is increasing.

This is reflected, as the facts and figures bear out, in the growth of the quality newspapers and in the increasing amount of more serious content in the populars. Newspaper publishers, of course, need to think ahead and decide what sort of readers they are attempting to reach and what sort of material these readers will require. I do not think that anybody would doubt that over the years there has been a general increase in standards, and that the very adverse verdict delivered, I believe, by the 1949 Royal Commission on the Press is not one which a Commission today would record.

Having said that, let me also remind the House that there have been a number of inquiries previously into the Press. The last Royal Commission was, I believe, the Shawcross Commission, which reported in 1962. I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay in particular, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), all of whom have referred to this point, that a number of the proposals—riot all of them—that have been advanced today were discussed by that Royal Commission. While I would not try at the moment to recall all the arguments and conclusions reached, my hon. Friend will find that some very substantial difficulties were described in that Royal Commission's Report.

We accept that an adequate range of national newspapers is needed for the expression of different views. To maintain this, various devices have been suggested—we heard some this afternoon—for aiding ailing newspapers. In the past, Ministers have commented on proposals of this kind. I believe it was the former President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, Mr. Jay) who, in February, 1967, told the House that while the study of such remedies should be pursued, it was for the industry to set about sorting out its own economic difficulties in the light of modern conditions. I emphasise that the industry—and this applies also to television—can and really must carry the main burden of reform which is necessary to secure its own survival.

Having said that about the national newspapers, I wish to make a special point about the regional and local newspapers. They are a very important institution. They greatly enrich the quality of debate and of interest in the many communities that cover this land. Their independence and continued existence are a very great national asset. The greatest threat to the local and regional newspapers would be the very ill-considered proposals, should they ever be adopted, for commercial radio which have been put forward from the Front Bench opposite on other occasions. That, I would think, would produce a dangerous situation.

I think that I have said enough about the Press to indicate that I do not quite share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, who described, as it were, a crisis in the industry. This is a continuing problem but to put it in the terms he used does not accurately reflect the true state of affairs.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney

I must ask my hon. Friend to forgive me on this occasion. I am keeping an eye on the clock, and if I can give way to him later, I shall do so.

I turn now to the question of television. There has, as we know, recently been considerable concern about revenues, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications made a statement this week announcing changes in the levy which will benefit the companies which were under the greatest pressure to the extent of some £6 million. I believe that the urgent problems they were facing a short time ago will now be surmounted.

Inquiries have very often taken place into broadcasting, and it may well be desirable that there should be a public inquiry to consider broadcasting again—it might be a royal commission or an independent committee set up by my right hon. Friend. As the House knows, the franchises of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to broadcast—the B.B.C. Charter, the B.B.C. Licensing Agreement and the Television Act, 1964—all expire on 31st July, 1976. Before then, the Government will have to consider their policy for broadcasting beyond that date. It is true that, in the past, independent committees of inquiry have generally been set up to advise the Government for this purpose. On the last occasion it was the Pilkington Committee, which was set up in 1960 and reported in 1962.

The Government have made no decisions about what should be done after 1976, but, clearly, it will be necessary to consider what the future of broadcasting is to be after that date. The Government are as anxious as anyone that the decisions to be made shall be the right ones, and perhaps a committee of inquiry or a commission would be the right way to help them reach those decisions. If so, such a commission would need to have enough time. It would need several years to do the work properly and for Government, Parliament and people to look at and consider the recommendations. It is too early to decide, but if an inquiry is set up, it will be set up in good time.

Some hon. Members argue that we should not wait until 1976. They claim that broadcasting has evoked so much interest, and even that there is a crisis of confidence—for example, over such things as the B.B.C.'s plans for sound radio and over the television companies—that there should be an inquiry now. I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney says about a "fire brigade" and the proposed use of a Select Committee. I think that he was right when he talked about the perhaps short-term problems which may arise, quite apart from the rather more searching forward inquiry of the sort we have had in the past. It is an interesting proposal.

I conclude on the subject of television by saying that I think it possible that there is a case here for some restricted form of inquiry into aspects of the effects of television on viewers, or perhaps many other aspects which may come to mind, but that this should be considered as something quite different from the longer-term-view-of-broadcasting kind of inquiries we had with the Pilkington Report and even before that.

I turn to meet head on the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay on the question of a major inquiry covering the whole range of communications industries—films, television, newspapers, the lot. This would be of enormous scope and it would be a big task. I see an interconnection in respect of advertising revenue, as my hon. Friend mentioned, as being a link between the Press and at least a part of broadcasting. I also see the relationship, as one must, between television and the film industry. I accept that there are these links.

We would, however, have to think very seriously indeed before we accepted that these links were, in themselves, so strong as to require such an enormously wide-ranging inquiry. I put aside the question of the amount of time that it would take to carry through such an inquiry. I am thinking more in terms of the enormously difficult technical and specialised problems that exist in each medium.

My right hon. Friend spoke in the House only last week about recent and prospective developments; and these include, in television, the development of facilities for playback in the home of recorded material received on television sets and television connected by wire through switching exchanges to enable viewers to choose a programe from a vast selection, merely by the turn of a dial. Such developments might be more relevant to the future of broadcasting than many aspects of the Press or cinema. This is a fair point to make, and these matters must obviously receive careful consideration as we examine the suggestions that have been made.

Photo of Mr Eric Moonman Mr Eric Moonman , Billericay

I must obviously speak a little more slowly so that my message can, without mistake, reach my hon. Friend. Equally, he must be clear about the message that he is giving. Is he telling people in the Labour Movement that his message is that the problems of newspapers and the communications industry can be left to market forces? If that is what he is saying, let him say that clearly and simply because this is a matter of grave concern; and nothing that he has said up to now alters the basis of the comments made by my right hon. Friend two years ago.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney

I am as concerned as any hon. Member to achieve the three aims I stated at the outset of my remarks, which are variety, independence and the quality of the media in this country.

My hon. Friend, in a somewhat accusatory way, asks certain questions. He should reflect carefully how far it is possible to achieve all three of those objectives at the same time. It is easy to say, "We will go for one or two", but one may do that at the cost of the third. I have not, as it were, slammed any doors on my hon. Friend. I have said that these are important matters on which we must reflect.

We recognise that there are serious problems in the communications industry. We believe that much can be done by those directly concerned in the Press and television to cope with them. We certainly accept that at reasonable intervals, as has happened in the past, a searching inquiry into the Press and broadcasting is necessary. On broadcasting, we have stated that full-scale consideration of the future will be necessary before the Charters expire in 1976.

As for the Press, there is no lack of facts. Our view for many years has been that if the industry has suggestions to put, we will respond as sympathetically as we can. As to the suggestion of a Royal Commission on the communications industry, I am not satisfied so far that a case has been sufficiently made out for that to occur. While it would not be right completely to close the door on this proposal, I must make it clear that I have not been convinced, on the arguments I have heard today, of the peed for it.

We will consider carefully the case for more limited inquiries into particular problems. There is the Monopolies Commission, to be followed one assumes, if Parliament agrees, by the C.I.M. There are also a number of ad hoc committees, and one should not rule out the possibility of there being a Select Committee of this House.

While we cannot ignore the fact that economic and technical forces operate on the Press and broadcasting, as they do on other industries, the Government accept that there is a major national interest involved in preserving freedom and variety in the media of communications. If we are cautious in our approach, it is for one overwhelming reason, which is that there are inherent dangers in Government intervention. Given that the principal objective is to maintain variety, we must consider carefully the cost if this were to be obtained at the price of freedom.

I hope that I have answered the majority of the points raised by hon. Members. I have done my best, within the time available to me—

It being Five o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, till Monday 6th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 23rd March.