HC Deb 22 October 1941 vol 374 cc1769-71
33. Mr. Clement Davies

asked the Minister of Information whether the proposed sale of one-half of the issued shares in Renters, Limited, by the Press Association, Limited, to the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, Limited, as trustee for the London newspapers, has been considered in relation to Reuters being the main source of supply of overseas news to the British Broadcasting Corporation, and of home and overseas news to the Empire and foreign news agencies and newspapers; and whether, in view of this and of certain facilities which Reuters enjoy, His Majesty's Government have considered making the continuance of the supply to the British Broadcasting Corporation and those facilities being dependent upon the control of Reuters being representative of British interests and not merely of the Press?

Mr. Bracken

His Majesty's Government are aware of these negotiations, but I have no statement to make at present.

Mr. Davies

Does my right hon. Friend consider it in the best interests of the public that the collection and dissemination, of news, especially to and through the B.B.C., should be in the hands of a few London newspaper proprietors?

Mr. Bracken

I do not think that we should prejudge this question at the moment, because we are having meetings with all the parties concerned very soon, and I should not like to say anything that might prejudice any arrangement which might ultimately be effected.

Mr. Lees-Smith

Is it not the case that the final decision on this subject is to be taken to-morrow, and will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to see that no vital decision is taken until the Government have considered it?

Mr. Bracken

I do not think my right hon. Friend is right in saying that the final decision will be taken to-morrow. To a large extent the parties concerned have sold the shares—the Press Association has sold the shares—but the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer and I are negotiating with the representatives of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the Press Association. The negotiations are rather difficult, and I think it would be liable to prejudice them if we were to discuss them now. I can give the House an assurance that we share the anxieties of hon. Members, and will do everything in our power to secure and protect the public interest.

Sir Percy Harris

Do the Government realise that this agency has now an almost complete monopoly of receiving and sending news, and that it is vital in the public interest that this monopoly should be under some kind of public control?

Mr. Bracken

As a matter of fact, the monopoly has existed for quite a long time. Reuters have been owned by the Press Association practically 100 per cent. They now propose to sell, or have sold, 50 per cent. of the shares to the Newspaper Proprietors Association.

Mr. Storey

Is it not a fact that in the past the shares in this undertaking have been very widely held, through the Press Association, and that under the deal, if it goes through, the London papers will not only hold half the shares in Reuters but will, through their provincial editions and their allied newspapers, hold a large interest in the Press Association? Is he further aware that the trust which it is proposed to set up in connection with this matter has no real powers, that the trustees will not hold the shares, that the trustees, although they will appoint the directors, will have to appoint those nominated by the shareholders, that the trust is revocable, and that it is not representative of other newspaper interests?

Mr. Bracken

Yes, I am quite well aware of all those points, and they are being very carefully considered by His Majesty's Government at the present moment.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Before anything is done which will destroy the independence of Reuters, will my right hon. Friend give this House an opportunity of expressing its opinion before any irrevocable step is taken?

Mr. Bracken

As a matter of fact, Reuters at the present moment is a private business. The Government are big cus- tomers of Reuters, and that is the only influence which they can exercise over the concern, other than nationalising it or starting their own news agency. Hon. Members can see that these are very large points of principle. I share all my hon. Friends' anxieties about the future of Reuters, and the Government have borne all the points expressed this morning very much in mind.

Sir A. Southby

Will my right hon. Friend answer my question?

Mr. C. Davies

In view of the last reply given by my right hon. Friend, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.