I have not pretended anything. I know that some years ago the Glasgow evening newspapers formed the subject of merger talks. I was concerned in speaking to one of the gentlemen involved with that project. That was a long time ago. We all know that there are special financial problems here, because Glasgow is the only city outside London with two evening newspapers.
It would be helpful if the Government would indicate whether they share the view of Beaverbrook Newspapers about the nature of the financial crisis that it is facing.
My second question relates to the merger between the Glasgow Evening Times and the Evening Citizen or the approaches of Scottish Universal and the good will of the Evening Citizen. understand that the merger is subject to Government approval. Under the Fair Trading Act I understand that the merger will not go ahead if the Government do not approve it. Will the Minister say whether that is the position and what are the criteria for deciding whether such approval should be given?
I appreciate that that is not an easy question. If approval were not given cash would not be available from Scottish Universal for redundancy payments for the men who will be put out of work. On the other hand, if approval is given, we appreciate that Albion Street cannot be viable without an evening newspaper as well as a morning one Will the Minister say whether Government approval is required and what criteria are involved in the giving or withholding of approval?
My third question relates to the viability of the Press as a whole. It has been suggested that Beaverbrook Newspapers has been incompetent in getting into its present financial position, but many newspapers are losing a great deal of money, some of them not far away from Albion Street Even firms with new equipment and new offices, and using modern techniques, are losing money by producing newspapers. Certain newspapers are carried by the other activities of the firms which own thems.
Much of the difficulty has been precipitated by the increase in the cost of newsprint. I appreciate that Governments and many who are involved in the Press would object to, or regard as a dangerous precedent, a subsidy to a particular newspaper, but the possibility of providing a newsprint subsidy to the Press as a whole which would be of universal application is worth investigating if it would provide a viable solution. That is a new factor which might influence Beaverbrook Newspapers to reconsider the whole position of its operations in Scotland and England, but that solution could be investigated only if we had time. Time is of the essence. Unless there can be a delay in the closure of these newspapers any general arrangement of that sort cannot be investigated fully with a view to solving the problem of the 1,800 jobs.
The answer is for hon. Members and the Government to use all possible influence to try to persuade Beaverbrook Newspapers not to close its Scottish newspapers at the time it has specified, but to delay for two, three or four weeks to enable us to have a full investigation into the question whether a newsprint subsidy could create a viable situation in Glasgow. Any such solution should at least be considered carefully and discussed with Beaverbrook Newspapers.
From our experience of other firms which have been in difficulty—the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders is a good example—it may be said, as the Conservatives said of Upper Clyde, that there is no prospect at any time of the firm being viable, yet circumstances may change dramatically and within six months the firm may become viable because of factors outside normal circumstances.
I am not suggesting that responsibility lies squarely with the Government or with anyone else. Many factors are involved —Beaverbrook Newspapers management, workers and the people who buy the newspapers. Everyone is involved in this tragic situation. It is important not to allocate blame but to try to find a solution which may be the means of saving as many jobs as possible. I hope that the Government will turn their mind to this aspect and will fully investigate the possibility of obtaining a breathing space to enable us to look at some means of pro- viding a secure future for the employment of workers in Beaverbrook Newspapers and also of preventing such a tragic situation occurring again.