Judge and Jury: Another sign of the Times that the Lords will be ignored - The Government’s defeat in the Lords over the pricing of the Times, although highlighting the issue, will have little influence over what the Government will do in the long

It was a heartwarming tale of our democracy in action. A cross-party group of peers from unelected House of Lords led a 121 to 93 drubbing for the Government on an amendment to the Competition Bill to ban predatory pricing by Rupert Murdoch’s title the Times - a snip at 20 pence on a Saturday.

It was a heartwarming tale of our democracy in action. A

cross-party group of peers from unelected House of Lords led a 121 to 93

drubbing for the Government on an amendment to the Competition Bill to

ban predatory pricing by Rupert Murdoch’s title the Times - a snip at 20

pence on a Saturday.



’Foul’ cried the peers, led by Lord McNally: the prices are just

designed to take out competitors such as the ailing Independent and the

not-so-ailing Telegraph.



Their amendment would prohibit the sale of papers below the cost of

production.



Murdoch was said to be spending pounds 49 million a year from his TV

empire to keep prices down.



Not so, replied News International: the Times is self-financing and, in

any event, falls well below the 40 per cent market share considered the

minimum needed for market dominance.



Both the unelected Industry minister Lord Simon and the unelected ’Prime

Minister’s Official Spokesman’ Alistair Campbell have since made it

clear that the elected House of Commons will throw out the amendment

next month.



Unelected officials insisted that predatory pricing by newspapers was

covered by the bill, which bars unfair purchase or selling prices by

companies with a dominant position.



Tony Blair owes much to the backing of Murdoch titles such as the

Sun.



By forcing the Government into the open on this issue, the rebel Lords

have probably hardened Labour’s lack of appetite for reviving its emnity

with the Murdoch empire. The tactics deployed by News International and

Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn appear effective to the extent that they have

drawn key audiences’ attention back to the factual context of the

debate.



However, despite the defeat in the Lords, News International has managed

to secure clarity of position from the Government on the issue.



While any defeat for the Government makes a good news story these days,

it is always going to be unlikely that ministers will want to buckle

under pressure from an Upper House which they are committed to

reforming.



However, much of the opinion-forming press was fascinated by the debate

and News International’s opponents have been extremely effective in

putting the issue back on the map. Whether this will revive the

Independent’s mixed fortunes seems unlikely - continued attrition in the

market for the heavies seems set to continue to be the order of the day

for some time.



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