Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 27th January 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East 5:57 pm, 27th January 1981

Indeed, perhaps they had a right. It is not necessary to disagree with that consensus to recognise that such a view is unhealthy if we are to aspire to becoming a real democracy. The situation cries out for a change because, if the free flow of information is the lifeblood of democracy the present ownership and structure of our press is incompatible with it.

I know that any proposal for a freer press will be controversial, but surely it is unacceptable that newspapers such as the News Chronicle and the Daily Herald, each of which had a circulation of more than 1 million, found it impossible to continue. There must have been something wrong. But what are the alternatives? I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is not here, because we must investigate these matters. We should think in terms of independent trusts. I should have liked to welcome the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, as a member of the co-operative movement of which I am a member, to join us if he wishes to develop that idea. We need much more industrial democracy in the media, including members of the printing trade unions.

I remind the House of the minority report of the Royal Commission on the Press, which suggested a national printing corporation which would own printing machinery and make it available to new publications and which also wanted a launch fund to enable new publications to come into existence. But these desirable objectives, unfortunately, will not come about next week. I hope that they will come about under a future Labour Government. I shall work for that. However, we can be sure that there will be developments in the coming days and weeks. That is happening now. There will be action. There will be a sale in the market place, where newspapers are bought and sold as commodities, rather like packets of tea over the counter.

I ask hon. Members to ruminate on the fact that we have a market economy which inevitably leads to concentration of ownership and monopoly. Is it not true that we have monopoly in virtually everything else, in the motor trade, steel and chemicals? Does not the market economy move towards monopoly? The newspaper industry is no different from the others. The concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry is a result of the society in which we live, as a result of the market economy and a society which Conservative hon. Members support.

I do not wish to embarrass Conservative Members, but Rupert Murdoch is an efficient predator in the jungle. He has been described as a buccaneer. He is efficient at operating in the system which they support. What is more difficult is for people such as myself to say that he is any worse than any of the other predators or buccaneers. In fact, some of the other buccaneers should have given up buccaneering a long time ago.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) is not here, because he has family connections with a newspaper empire. The organisation which has descended from that still owns, as far as I know, four daily newspapers. He also put forward two options. The first was Atlantic Richfield. Do we really want to consider that? It already owns The Observer. It is not British. Do we want to give it The Sunday Times as well? Will that give us greater press freedom? That would not give me a thrill at all. The hon. Member for Thanet, East seemed primarily to be carrying the torch for Associated Newspapers.

Associated Newspapers bought the Empire News. That was amalgamated with the Sunday Dispatch and it shut down the lot. It merged the News Chronicle, which I thought was a good newspaper, as I used to read it as a lad, with the Daily Mail. It also bought the Daily Sketch—do hon. Members remember that newspaper—and amalgamated it with the Daily Mail. They also bought the Evening Star—I say that as a Londoner—or was it the Star?