Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East 4:43 pm, 27th January 1981

No. I have been interrupted twice already, I must get on with my speech.

Some of the safeguards do not even cover the areas of concern about which I have spoken. Some do and some do not. I believe that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission would have been capable of doing a more thorough and worthwhile job than the conditions that were laid down ex cathedra by the Secretary of State.

I return to what I call the prearranged package deal between the Thomson Organisation and Murdoch. It was almost an Alice-in-Wonderland situation—sentence first, verdict after. It became curiouser and curiouser, especially when we examined the role in this affair of Warburg, Thomson's merchant banker. The chairman of Warburg is Lord Roll, and in that capacity he must take prime responsibility for what many see as the less than evenhanded treatment of all bidders other than Rupert Murdoch. But we must also remember that the same Lord Roll is also a national director of Times Newspapers Ltd. He is one of the quartet of noble Lords whose duty it is to uphold the national interest and preserve the integrity and independence of Times Newspapers and, we now learn, to approve the editor. What is the role of Lord Roll? Is he banker of fees or the bulwark of liberty? Is there a conflict of interest here? On the face of it, there would seem to be some pertinent questions that need to be asked. It reminds me of the remark that was attributed to Lord Queensberry when he addressed Mr. Oscar Wilde—"Oscar, I don't say that you are, but you look as though you are, and that is worse."