"Today" Newspaper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 6th July 1987.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford 5:41 pm, 6th July 1987

The hon. Gentleman makes a series of futile allegations that have absolutely nothing whatever to do with the substance of the debate, so I shall treat them with the contempt that they deserve.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) made clear, Today has played a very significant role in the preservation of the freedom of the press. Furthermore, when faced with a mixture of financial crisis and urgency, the need to sustain that newspaper was self-evident. Therefore, the criteria in the Fair Trading Act 1973 have been subscribed to and complied with, and the basis upon which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State arrived at his decision was entirely reliable and entirely justified.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) suggested that in some way the decision was corrupt. If, under the basis of the legislation as it now stands, the Secretary of State, when arriving at a decision on a discretion, failed to be properly satisfied in law as to the basis upon which he made that decision—in other words, that there was a corrupt basis upon which he had arrived at the decision —that decision would be capable of being impugned at law. In reality there is no such basis, and we look in vain to the Opposition, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who no doubt will be replying to the debate, to produce evidence of such corruption and evidence of anything that can justify the impugning of the decision that has already been taken.

This decision was taken in line with other decisions that have been taken in the past — for good and sound reasons. Indeed, over recent years there have been a number of references to the MMC involving national newspapers. There was the one in 1966 when The Times was acquired. There was the 1978 reference in connection with Lonrho's acquisition of Outrams, the publishers of the Glasgow Herald. In 1981 there was the acquisition of The Observer by Lonrho. Therefore, it is not true, as the Opposition have said, that there have been no references in relation to national newspapers that are worth considering, because I have given three examples.

Furthermore, a number of non-references have occurred, including the Evening Standard and Evening News in 1980 and the acquisition of Times Newspapers Ltd. by News International in 1981. Reference has been made to the basis upon which that decision was made then. It was a perfectly proper decision at the time and in the then prevailing circumstances. Indeed, anyone who looks at the consent and the conditions imposed would know that it was a perfectly proper decision that was not capable of being impugned.

There is another aspect of the hypocrisy of the Opposition Benches on this subject. We need only look back to what occurred in July 1969, when Mr. Cudlipp had announced that The Sun would be wound up in January of the following year. At that time The Sun was losing money. The Labour Cabinet considered whether the IPC-Reed merger should go to the MMC. I understand that at the time one of the Secretaries of State, now Mrs. Barbara Castle, went through the motions, weakly supported, so it is said, by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). It was said that there was not one supporter for the reference to the MMC by the Cabinet. For those who wish to look it up, they will find that this occurs in the Crossman diaries of 10 February 1970. These matters were looked into at that time.

According to those diaries, the Prime Minister of the day described the attempt to go through the motions of a reference to the MMC— which was not backed up by any decision to do so as there was not one supporter in favour of it—as "political suicide".

When Labour Members say that reference should have been made on this occasion, it would do them no harm to look at the history of the way in which similar references were dealt with by their own Government when in power. I should also add that the former right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead, Mr. Roy Jenkins, also agreed with the then Prime Minister on the basis that together they had said that the Daily Mirror was the only paper that was loyal to the Labour party.

Labour Members should not be throwing stones, because Mr. Crossman made a very accurate assessment of the position in his diaries, and no one subsequently suggested that it was not an accurate representation of what happened.