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Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham 6:20 pm, 27th January 1981

I condemn that situation with a ferocity equal to that which my hon. Friend has shown on previous occasions. I support the protest that has been made about it. The only saving grace in all this is the question of The Sunday Times. The assurances given by Mr. Murdoch, allied to what the Secretary of State has said—which must be backed, I take it, by legal sanctions, because the Department will have the same attitude to the rules that he has laid down as it has to insurance companies, their viability, and so on—in this case are editorial conditions and are legally enforceable. That is a good thing.

In putting those two things together, the trade unions, particularly the print unions, when looking at the question of editorial freedom, have faith in a person like Harold Evans. Indeed, they and I and, I think, a majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends, credit him with being possibly one of the greatest editors of this century. He has built up a Sunday newspaper that has innovated editorially all kinds of features that have been a positive contribution to investigative journalism in this country. He has registered a number of "firsts".

The unions say that, given the conditions that have been laid down, they would probably get more from what is proposed than they would from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The commission could not read out the rules that the Secretary of State has read out, because its track record proves the opposite. The commission is the wrong place to which to refer such a situation. It cannot grant editorial freedom. It is concerned more with the commercial aspects and with commercial diversity than with the opposite. That is the trade union point of view, and I have tried to put it as fairly as possible. I have taken heed of your comments, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that the considerations that I have put will be borne in mind by the House.

All workers in this country look to the day when they can have a newspaper that will faithfully put their point of view, without being tied to a political party. It is because of that kind of determination that the Labour Party and its national executive will undoubtedly ensure that in the manifesto for the next general election there will be a version of the minority report of the Royal Commission on the Press, written by Mr. Geoffrey Goodman and Mr. David Basnett, that will be the basis of Labour policy at that election. It is for the reasons that I have set out that I believe that that statement will be acceptable to the majority of people.