Murdoch may lose out over rebel vote

The Government may back down on a decision not to address the issue of predatory newspaper pricing in its Competition Bill, following an embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords on Monday.

The Government may back down on a decision not to address the issue

of predatory newspaper pricing in its Competition Bill, following an

embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords on Monday.



Twenty-three Labour peers acted against party instructions by supporting

protests that Rupert Murdoch’s pricing policy for the Times threatened

the survival of the Independent and the diversity of the British

press.



The voting was 121 to 93 in favour of the amendment by the Liberal

Democrat peer, Lord McNally, aimed at ’prohibiting a newspaper from

abusing its market position’.



Although the Government has described the Lords amendment as

’unnecessary’, it is anxious to head off a possible rebellion.



It is thought that as many as 50 Labour backbenchers may challenge the

Government if it tries to reject the amendment in the House of Commons

without some form of compromise.



The Lords vote came after intensive lobbying by rival newspaper

publishers who are concerned about News International’s aggressive price

strategy.



Downing Street is opposed to singling out one industry, but it may seek

an amendment during the Bill’s Commons stages which would clarify the

powers of the Director General of Fair Trading to act on predatory

pricing in any industry. It needs to quell a revolt which would be

damaging to party unity, while maintaining the favour of a newspaper

proprietor who has given the party valuable support.



Hugo Drayton, the marketing director of the Telegraph, said of the vote:

’We are pleased to see the issue is being acknowledged at such a

level.



It remains to be seen if the House of Commons will take practical

steps.’



Jeremy Reed, the managing director of the Independent titles, said: ’It

sends a clear signal to all MPs that this amendment was required.’



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