"Today" Newspaper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 6th July 1987.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) 3:35 pm, 6th July 1987

I entirely agree. After the exchanges last week, I have tried to keep the temperature down, and I hope that I shall succeed in doing so. Last week we saw quite nakedly that the Opposition's objections arose because they disapproved of the politics of the person who had acquired the title. The history of other references and non-references under the Act shows that that is the principal concern.

Considerations of that kind played no part in this. I have shown how, looking at the two considerations that he was obliged to look at under the Act, there was absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State was justified in deciding that Parliament had given him a discretion not to refer in this case. It is only a discretion. He could still have decided to refer or not to refer—and I am in no doubt that he was legally entitled to refer.

When one looks at the wider considerations and whether the risk of the title closing was worth carrying in this case, one sees that there are other relevant considerations. Todayis a comparatively new title. There was no such newspaper 15 months ago, so it is a desirable newcomer on the scene that is threatened with extinction, and not a long-standing one about to go. It had already nearly folded once. It got into immediate financial crisis and had to be transferred to Lonrho very shortly after it opened. So far as I can recall, nobody demanded that any reference be made at all—and I have looked through the Official Report.Under the terms of the Act, with The Observer already owned by Tiny Rowlands, it could well have been referred, but to the best of my recollection nobody asked me to refer it.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) that, for some reason best known to themselves, Opposition Members were less worried about Tiny Rowlands than they were about Rupert Murdoch. This was a new title, it had already nearly folded and it had only achieved a comparatively small circulation. The trouble is that at the moment it commands about only 2·5 per cent. of newspaper circulation. That is a relevant consideration when one looks at the impact that this has on the possible monopolistic concentration of ownership. It is also relevant that one looks at whereabouts this newspaper is in the market, because it is not correct to look at all newspapers as though they are all the same, as though they are all read by the same people and as though they are are all aiming at the same market. Mr. Murdoch owns The Times andThe Sun, which are not exactly in the same part of the market. This newspaper is in the middle of the market, where News International does not at the moment have a newspaper.