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Cairncross Review - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:46 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 4:46 pm, 12th February 2019

I thank the noble Lords. I entirely concur with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and the emphasis that he laid on local journalism and its impact on and importance to local democracy and indeed to wider societal issues that arise at a local level. To that extent, I believe that we are all pleased with the steps taken by the BBC with regard to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, which has been effective. The conundrum now is how to redress the balance. I believe that a starting point is for the CMA, which has experience and expertise in this area, to look at how the market is working. That will not be a solution in itself but it will give us a starting point from which we can work. As regards a regulator, that is a medium-term or longer-term ambition. Again, we will have to look at how we can develop that, but we are conscious of its importance.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made the perfectly valid point that many of our printed press corporations remain profitable. The difficulty is the disparity between the profitability in some areas and the poverty in others, as illustrated recently by the demise of one of the largest publishers of local newspapers in the country. In so far as the press industry seeks to, as the noble Lord put it, put its fingers into the tax pot, it is fair to say that he can anticipate that the Treasury will be pretty hard-nosed about that. We will seek to ensure that any benefits that can be provided go to the right place for the development of public-interest journalism.

I do not see this as an attempt to weaken the BBC, although there might be issues there that we will look at. I appreciate the importance of the BBC as a source of reliable journalism, but perhaps there are areas where it goes where it would not have gone before. I am not sure that it is necessarily in the public interest to have “Love Island” news online—although I may be corrected by some. It seems to me that these are areas where, for example, more commercial enterprises might be allowed into the market. I will just raise that as an issue.

I welcome the comments that have been made. We will want to review matters. The noble Lord raised the question of a debate. Of course, we have the forthcoming White Paper as well, and it may be that, in the light of that, a wider debate will be appropriate.