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Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North 3:51 pm, 27th January 1981

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn. Leave having been given on Monday 26 January under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss:a reference of the proposed purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times by Mr. Rupert Murdoch to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. This is an important debate. The proposed purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times raises vital questions of public interest and I think that it is timely that this House, as a guardian of the public interest, has an opportunity to consider it in the context particularly of the obligations which legislation passed by Parliament has placed upon Ministers.

I believe that the case for a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in this instance is clear and straightforward. First, on any view, the acquisition by Mr. Murdoch of both those newspapers creates a large concentration of newspaper power in one set of hands. I am told that, with The Sun and The Times, he would have a 30 per cent. share of daily newspaper readership. With The Sunday Times and the News of the World, he would have 36 per cent. of the Sunday newspaper readership. Such concentrations of newspaper power are probably unique and unprecedented in our history.

Secondly, the newspapers themselves have a special place in our national life. The Times, perhaps our most prestigious newspaper, has played, still plays and I hope will continue to play, a special and particular role as a reliable journal of record, a forum of national debate and an articulator of independent opinion. The Sunday Times has pioneered new fashions and techniques of journalism which have made it one of the most influential and successful Sunday newspapers in our history. Both newspapers play such an important role in our national affairs that particular care must be given to the question of how and by whom they are owned and controlled.

Thirdly, Parliament has already provided a method whereby these matters can be scrutinised. I refer of course to part V of the Fair Trading Act 1973, by which newspaper mergers are made conditional on the approval of the Secretary of State, except in some special circumstances to which I shall refer in a moment.

It seems to me self-evident that the machinery should be used in what is one of the largest and perhaps the most significant mergers in the history of journalism in the United Kingdom. Indeed, if that mechanism is said to be not the proper way to handle this case, one wonders why we should bother to retain it.