Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry 4:12 pm, 27th January 1981

I have talked to the Thomson Organisation and I am sure that I speak for every Member of the House in saying that we should be much happier working under time constraints more generous than we now have.

Moreover, the delay involved would affect the deal agreed between Thomson's and News International, probably requiring the reopening of negotiations. And I am told that the discussions between the possible new owners and the unions could not begin until the decision was taken following the MMC report. So a reference to the MMC triggers a series of delays clearly beyond the present closure plans.

I should add here that the commission is required to investigate a particular application, to report whether or not it judges that application to be against the public interest and to recommend to the Secretary of State whether any—if so, what—conditions might be attached to the transfer. Some commentators have implied that the commission can look at all the possible bidders for the papers and recommend the one which it thinks best. But this misconceives the commission's functions.

The choice that I faced was, therefore, whether to insist on a Monopolies, and Mergers Commission investigation and risk closure of The Times titles, with 4,000 redundancies and the possibility of the permanent closure of The Times.

I mentioned earler the importance of the "character" of The Times being preserved—the relationship between the proprietor and the editor that had been established at the time of the Thomson acquisition. I know that it has been assumed that this would be an essential point in any MMC investigation.

The Act, however, provides for my consent to be given conditionally or unconditionally, and indeed if the MMC were itself to recommend any actions these, too, could be brought into effect only as conditions attached to my consent.

After earnest consideration, and to avoid disruption and uncertainty, I have concluded that I should give my consent forthwith, and without a Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigation, to the transfer of Times Newspapers to News International, subjects to certain conditions.