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Local Newspapers — [Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 13th January 2010.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:29 pm, 13th January 2010

This is about the sixth debate that we have had on local newspapers in the past two years. May I say to my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt, on the proposals that he made, that actually the Government have listened. When we had the debate about 18 months ago, proposals were made that the Secretary of State should convene a meeting of all sides of the industry. He did that last April, and there was a summit at which a number of us from the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group were present, along with representatives of newspaper conglomerates and other representatives of the media. My hon. Friend's exact proposal that there should be a form of public funding to support local news and local quality journalism was taken on board. A presentation was made by Ofcom, and the Government have introduced the Digital Economy Bill, which includes the proposals on independently financed news consortiums.

I hope that that will provide part of the solution to the problem that we have been trying to address during this series of debates. I agree with Mr. Randall that part of the problem has been both a lack of investment in the good times, when companies such as Trinity Mirror were making significant profits, and management not looking to the long-term future.

The Government have listened to those discussions and the debates here, and I welcome their proposals. My only reason for speaking in the debate is to ask the Secretary of State to give us an indication of the time scale now. We know that the tenders were put out for the pilots for the consortiums in November. It would be useful to know the time scale for the decision making on the process. That is also important for the sake of the staff, because we are worried about the loss of quality journalism, which was based on quality journalists. Assurances need to be given-for example, that existing staff within the area of the consortiums are protected by TUPE and will be transferred across into the new consortiums if they are established. In addition, an assurance is needed that there will be full involvement of the trade unions in the discussions on those proposals at the next stage. An assurance also needs to be given that in the next stage of the development of policy, we will keep in place the mechanism of the summit that we had last April, so that we can be ahead of the game, rather than continuously responding to crises.