Oral Answers to Questions — Times Newspapers Limited

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1979.

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Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby 12:00 am, 7th March 1979

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the threat to the freedom of the press and the loss of employment resulting from the continued closure by management of Times Newspapers Limited publications. A debate would enable the House to consider a number of crucial issues that have arisen since November, when the newspapers under the control of TNL ceased publication. Those issues would include the question of what value can be placed upon assurances given to the Monopolies Commission, the eligibility rules for unemployment benefit, the effectiveness of the Employment Protection Act, and the regulations concerning redundancy payments.

On Friday, the final dismissal notices to the longest-serving employees of Times Newspapers Ltd. will take effect. That will mean that more than 3,000 employees will have been sacked by that company. That raises another crucial point, which could be considered in more detail in a debate, namely, whether it is correct for a foreign-owned company to own newspapers in this country, to use revenue obtained from North Sea oil exploration to create wholesale unemployment in this country in its newspapers and to try to tear up, as the management of TNL has done, all working agreements that existed before last November with all its employees.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this matter with sympathy. You were good enough, last November, to grant an emergency debate. In the intervening period there have been some initiatives aimed at securing negotiations to obtain a proper working relationship between the management and its employees. Obviously, the basis of any proper negotiations must be the complete reinstatement of all employees who have been dismissed, the workers offering guarantees for uninterrupted publication in return for guarantees from management about security of employment.

It is imperative that the Government take a real initiative this week to try to secure proper negotiations between management and unions. There is general agreement that if Friday comes with no successful initiative being taken, we face a prolonged crisis of continued non-publication and a protracted dispute, which could escalate throughout the company and into other parts of the British newspaper industry.

Therefore, I urge you, Mr. Speaker, most strongly to consider this matter sympathetically so that at the least Ministers will be enabled to explain to the House what they have done so far and what further efforts they are making to secure proper negotiations. I ask you that bearing in mind that, as has been shown to a great extent over the last week or 10 days, there is a new spirit aimed at securing a working agreement that will enable Times Newspapers once again to be published.