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
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
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
It remains to be seen if the House of Commons will take practical
Jeremy Reed, the managing director of the Independent titles, said: ’It
sends a clear signal to all MPs that this amendment was required.’