Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead 5:18 pm, 27th January 1981

The secret of Rupert Murdoch's success is probably that he correctly defines the markets that need to be filled. He has defined The Sun's potential market, and he sees that the potential market for The Times is much greater than at present.

Another requirement for the survival and prosperity of The Times is that the new owner should have the confidence of the staff. There is divided evidence on this. On the one hand, there are the votes that were taken in the National Union of Journalists' chapels. On the other, I learnt last night of an assertion by 100 of the approximately 280 journalists employed on The Times that they wanted the transfer to go ahead and not be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I am confident that the conditions that my right hon. Friend spelt out today will ensure the support of a much larger proportion of that journalistic staff.

A further requirement is that the new owner should have the ability to forge a constructive relationship with the print unions. I shall not dwell on the lamentable story of the damage inflicted on Times Newspapers Ltd. by the dispute that lasted 11 long months. On his record, Rupert Murdoch certainly has that ability. On all those tests, I believe that he is the right man—and certainly the best man around as far as we can see—to give The Times a new lease of life.

What would have been the effect of referring the transfer to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? As my right hon. Friend explained, the deal depends on arrangements being made between the new proprietor and the print unions within the next two weeks. There is no way that that deadline could be met if the transfer were referred to the commission. Some hon. Members have asked why Thompson could not be persuaded to extend the deadline. What is in it for Thompson if he extends the deadline? Redundancy notices have already been issued. Money would have to be coughed up immediately for those employees who chose to cash in their notices.

In addition, if the issue were referred to the commission the talks between Rupert Murdoch and the print unions would immediately go into limbo. No progress would be made. Publication would cease and as a result a completely different deal would be necessary. A new situation would arise and we should have to contemplate the separate sale of different newspapers. Some argue that The Sunday Times would readily find a purchaser. That would be the kiss of death to The Times. I do not accept that the two newspapers can exist independently. Such separation must be avoided.

My right hon. Friend has seized the chance to allow The Times to be placed on a sound commercial footing that will have the support of journalists and of the print unions. He is right, in the interests of the staff, its readers and the general public, not to obstruct the transfer by referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. We have all seen and digested the effective advertising campaign that The Times has mounted. It asks: have you ever wished you were better informed? Today the Secretary of State has ensured that he is fully informed of the situation. Those who argue against him may well come to regret that they were not better informed on the realities of newspaper publishing today.