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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

That is precisely what I am saying. The Minister has no discretion unless he is satisfied that a particular situation exists. I am glad that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) understands that point clearly now, because it is important. I ask the Secretary of State to give us evidence on which he reaches his conclusion, if that is the conclusion that he reaches.

The public interest can be weighed and taken into account by reference, without prejudice, to the genuine interests of those whose jobs are involved. However, that implies a political will on the part of the Government to make the reference. If the Secretary of State does not refer it, that may be what is missing here. It would also require reasonable good will on the part of Mr. Murdoch and the Thomson Organisation, which the House is entitled to expect. I understand that Mr. Murdoch has said that his only objection to a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission relates to the length of time that that would take. If he could be met on that, presumably he would have no other objection.

Another line of argument has been developed in the course of the public discussion in the past day or two. It has been said that it is not necessary or desirable to refer this matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission because other sufficient or better safeguards exist in the assurances that Mr. Murdoch has given to the Thomson Organisation and the staff of the newspapers. We should look at these safeguards, and no doubt hon. Members will wish to refer to them in the course of the debate. Assurances given in good faith by Mr. Murdoch to the present owner are no substitute for assurances given to a publicly and statutorily constituted body, such as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The assurances Stand, without any questions being asked.

When Lord Thomson took over The Times the case was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Incidentally, at that time Lord Thomson was the only bidder. There are more bidders than one in the present negotiations. Lord Thomson's concentration of power was much less intense than is involved at present, and he was cross-examined by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission about the quality of the safeguards that he offered. But what are these assurances?