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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 thought that I had dealt with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) under the fourth condition which stated: on editorial independence, the editors shall not be appointed or dismissed without the approval of the majority of the independent national directors". I realise that the transfer of two such prestigious newspapers as The Times and The Sunday Times to someone who is already a substantial newspaper proprietor must inevitably raise important question of the public interest. The concentration in ownership is, on the face of it, disturbing, although I must say that The Times and The Sunday Times are appealing to different ends of the market from the existing publications of News InternationalThe Sun and the News of the World. Moreover, the conditions attaching to my consent to the transfer will, I believe, deal satisfactorily with this problem, as well as with that of editorial freedom.

I do not deny that there is normally a great deal to be said for a thorough Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry limits contentious mergers and the safeguards that that course contains. That course was available to me, but in these circumstances it would have been inexcusable if, by causing delay and creating uncertainty, I had taken any steps that might have resulted in the permanent closure of one, and perhaps both, of these great newspapers.

I have, therefore, agreed to the merger application with the conditions that I have outlined to the House. I hope and believe that this judgment will secure a continuing quality of journalism that is to our national advantage. I commend my decision to the House.