Johnston Press: Administration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:41 pm, 19th November 2018

Let me start by agreeing with the hon. Gentleman that this is indeed a long-term problem that requires some long-term solutions. As he rightly says, local papers have been closing since 2005, but, if my memory serves me correctly, it was not my party in government in 2005; it was his. It really will not do for him to bring what is a serious issue—and a long-term one, as he says—to this House and try to make it into a bit of political point scoring against the current Secretary of State. I do not mind, but those who are affected by these changes will want to hear something a little more constructive from him and the Labour party.

Let me answer the pensions question. The hon. Gentleman asks me about current pensioners. As far as I understand it, they will not be affected. Anyone in receipt of their pension now will continue to be paid. The changes will affect those who are currently in employment, and we believe that there are 250 or so in total.

The next point that the hon. Gentleman makes is that this problem was apparent for some time. He is right, of course, and, as I said in my response to him, the problems affecting local media have been apparent for some time. They are structural problems, which is precisely why we believe that the right approach to take is to ask for an independent assessment of those structural problems, which Dame Frances Cairncross is carrying out and which will be completed shortly. When it is, we have asked Dame Frances to give clear indications of what she believes the answers may be so that we can consider what action a Government can properly take. That is the right approach to what is a structural and long-term problem, as he says.

In answer to another of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, I indicated to him in my initial response that I have had a conversation with David King, as he did over the weekend, and I spoke to JPI’s lead director today. Those are the conversations that I have had since this announcement was made on Friday. He seems to suggest that the Government should do more. He will be aware that, in addition to the Cairncross review, we have made concessions on business rates for newspapers, and we have looked at other ways in which we can help. He will be well aware that local papers were very clear that if the Government had brought into force section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, they would be significantly affected by it. Indeed, Johnston Press itself responded to the consultation on this matter. The hon. Gentleman may have seen what it said, but, in case he missed it, let me remind him. It said that the impact of section 40 could cost its business £6.7 million. It went on to say that it would force many of its papers that operate on the slimmest of margins to become unprofitable and that they would therefore have to be closed.

I respect the hon. Gentleman’s position on section 40. It is long held and, by him, deeply felt. What he cannot do is come to this House and accuse the Government of doing too little to help local papers when he himself would take action that would profoundly damage them.