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 can understand why the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) feels some affection for them, but I do not think that anyone, including the hon. Gentleman, would describe those national directors as representing the full spectrum of British public life.

It might be profitable to add two additional national directors. One might be a working journalist from The Sunday Times and one a working journalist from The Times. Who better than people with experience of working in newspapers to watch that the assurances given in good faith by Mr. Murdoch are implemented in full in the spirit and according to the letter of the assurances?

There is, of course, another great concern which people have expressed during the public discussion in recent days. How do we know that the assurances will be carried into practical effect? If the editor, for example, is prepared to go along with the proprietor, a lot of the assurances will not be worth the paper that they are written on or the words in which they are couched. The Companies Acts are not an easy method of enfranchising these assurances. The assurances will be built into the articles of association, but the articles of association can be changed by a majority, especially by a 100 per cent. owner of the organisation. That means that, whatever faith we place on them, they could be changed later on.

We also need to know the record of Mr. Murdoch in respect of assurances which he has given about other newspapers in other parts of the world. That could be looked at by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, because it has been raised in the course of the public debate.

I do not want to delay the House any longer. Many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. It is extremely important that Members of this House should take part in the discussion of this affair. We are, after all, guardians of the public interest.

I do not know what the Secretary of State has decided or how he proposes to discharge his responsibilities, but my argument is twofold. First, it seems to me that the Secretary of State has in these circumstances a legal duty to refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Secondly, it is overwhelmingly in the public interest that such a major change in newspapers in this country should be subjected to public scrutiny.