Sky and 21st Century Fox: Proposed Merger - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:50 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 12:50 pm, 16th March 2017

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and the way that the Secretary of State is approaching her responsibilities in this regard. The big problem is that we have been here before. In many ways, we are dealing with an issue that we have faced many times—since the end of the war there have been five royal commissions on the press, and Leveson—and yet we still have these concerns about power and influence.

I am still haunted by the word that Mr Murdoch used at the height of the hacking scandal when he appeared before the Select Committee and said it was the humblest day of his life. I always thought that that was an odd word to use. It is not humbling, it is not regretting, it is not “I am going to mend my ways”. In fact, everything that has happened since has warned us that there has been no change in the approach.

Can the Minister tell us what were the points that Fox contested? It would be interesting to know how it contested what we thought a week ago was a very good Statement. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, where does this sit in the timetable of other decisions to be made about Leveson 2 and about setting up one of the great prizes of Leveson—a genuine, low-cost arbitration system under Section 40? It is important that we look at this in a holistic way, not a siloed way. I also worry about the 40-day time limit. We should not put false timetables on these decisions because we will be stuck with them for a very long time.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on her assurances about respecting her quasi-judicial authority. Will the Government also guarantee that any meeting or communication between Mr Murdoch and the Prime Minister, or their emissaries, is made immediately public, as well as the record of any meetings that do take place? There is a long record of Mr Murdoch having access outside the direct ministerial responsibilities, in all the jurisdictions in which he operates.

The wording of the Statement gives us confidence but will the Minister assure us that we are in a process which is going to satisfy somebody he will be well aware of—the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus? When we get to the end of this process, will it feel right? Will it smell right? Will it look right? If it does not, we will have created another problem that we will have to face further down the road.