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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson , Coventry North West 5:35 pm, 27th January 1981

What does the Act say? Is it on a retrospective basis? The Secretary of State says that this is a case of urgency because of the deadline. Enough has been said about that. One might refrain from calling this blackmail, as did the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), but it must be a threat, and it is reminiscent of Mr. Ricardo of Chrysler and other different matters.

The Secretary of State said, most importantly, that The Sunday Times is not economic as a going concern. I have not had the time to look up the exact definition of a going concern—I am not sure whether we could apply it in these curcumstances—but I have had a brief look at Palmer's. It is difficult to define something as a going concern if it does not exist as a separate entity. It is difficult to define something that is not a going concern until someone has made an offer for it, on the ground and with the information on which the right hon. Gentleman has decided that he need not refer it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

What sort of tortuous logic is the right hon. Gentleman using? What frame of mind has he got himself into—he has a logical and lucid mind—to have come up with such a proposal? Does he believe that it would stand up in a court of law if determinedly challenged? We have a viable and profitable company. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that on the basis of an internal accounts document provided by his own Department he can recommend to the House that it is not a going concern? On that basis, how can he say that we must go ahead because there is no other alternative? We are back again with the TINA syndrome.

Under the prospectus proposals, the right hon. Gentleman might have argued that there was no alternative but he would have had to refer it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. However, he cannot argue that this was no alternative under his own proposal, because he has not made the figures available. He must not put other viable alternatives at the significant and unacceptable disadvantage, referred to by the hon. Member for Thanet, East imposed by the decision today.

Labour Members and many interested parties to whom this affair is causing great concern will not let the matter rest. This is not the end of this story; let us hope that it is just the beginning. We must require full disclosure from the Government. In the House, we must have not just the prospectus from Warburg. That will not do. We have seen the figures; they all add up. We must have full discoverability of the working papers, on the basis of which a prospectus was put forward which the right hon. Gentleman says is no good. With those working papers we must have the management accounts for the separate entities—the Thompson group so that we can see where the overheads should go and what definable entities can or cannot stand up. Then we can take a decision about the reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.