HC Deb 19 June 1979 vol 968 cc1099-101
8. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what current discussions he is having with the management and unions of Times Newspapers Ltd.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

My right hon. Friend is keeping in close touch with the situation at Times Newspapers Ltd. but so far has not had formal discussions with either management or unions. My right hon. Friend fully shares the House's concern about this dispute and remains willing to offer any assistance that seems likely to help towards a resumption of publication.

Mr. Price

Is the hon and learned Gentleman aware that I thought that the Government's policy was to let incompetent managements suffer the consequences of their own folly? Is Times Newspapers Ltd., in some sort of way, an exception? Will the Minister go a little further than his statement and say what the Secretary of State intends to do about this matter? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that more than 10,000 direct and related jobs in London are at stake? If The Times management cannot be sensible about the matter, will he turn to the BBC or someone else to take over Times Newspapers?

Mr. Mayhew

It is not for me to comment upon the hon. Gentleman's thought processes. However, my right hon. Friend is, of course, aware of the large number of jobs that depend upon the survival of Times Newspapers, and he is very anxious to miss no opportunity to make a useful intervention, but he does not wish to make one which would not be successful.

Mr. Aitken

Is my hon and learned Friend aware that at the heart of this dispute there lies a very serious problem of low productivity? In particular, is he aware that the NGA linotype operators on The Times, even using the new technology for which they claim a monopoly, are able to print only at a rate of 3,500 characters per hour whereas their German equivalents, using the same machinery, print at a rate of 18,500 characters per hour? Can any British industry survive that kind of low productivity imbalance?

Mr. Mayhew

The advent of new technology, as my hon. Friend knows, gives rise to many very difficult and complex problems. He is quite right in saying that it is the advent of new technology that lies at the root of this dispute.