HL Deb 21 December 1966 vol 278 cc2090-2

12.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade on the proposed transfer of The Times and The Sunday Times to a newspaper proprietor. The Statement is as follows:—

"I have received the Report of the Monopolies Commission, which is being published to-day. The Commission concluded that the proposed transfer may be expected not to operate against the public interest. I accept their conclusion and have accordingly given my consent to the proposed transfer.

The Thomson Organisation have formally confirmed to me the personal assurances given by Lord Thomson to the Monopolies Commission about the preservation of the separate identities of The Times and The Sunday Times, and about the maintenance of the independence of their editors."


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for repeating the Statement which has just been made in another place. On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House I would say that we are glad that the Commission have found that the proposed merger will not operate against the public interest. We are glad to learn of the formal assurances given by the Thomson Organisation. May I ask one question? Will there be any surveillance over the keeping of those assurances in the years to come?


My Lords, may I, too, thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement? I am afraid I listened to it with no great enthusiasm. It seems sad that a paper with such a long tradition as The Times should be taken over by a large combine. May I press the noble Lord a little further as to the assurances given by Lord Thomson of Fleet, particularly with reference to the separate identity of The Times and the independence of editors? What will be the long-term position? Will there be any particular safeguards? Would it not have been better if a trust had been set up? I wonder if the noble Lord could say whether Lord Thomson of Fleet was asked about the possibility of creating a trust, or whether this was considered by the Monopolies Commission.


My Lords, the question of alternatives was considerd by the Monopolies Commission. They concluded, however, that there was no alternative at present in sight which could give any more grounds for confidence than the proposals under investigation. They also recognised the need to bring to an end the uncertainty about the future of The Times. They believe the conclusion they have reached to be the right one. With regard to the continuance of surveillance, all I can say is that the assurances have been given by Lord Thomson, and, so far as I know, they will be carried on in the future. I cannot say more than that.


My Lords, a very important recommendation was made on page 44 of the Report by Mr. Davidson. I was wondering whether the noble Lord could say if this was one of the assurances which was given by Lord Thomson of Fleet. The recommendation was that Times Newspapers Ltd., when incorporated, should give and honour a similar formal undertaking.


My Lords, the assurances given by Lord Thomson of Fleet were that in regard to the office of the editor-in-chief of Times Newspapers Ltd. it was not the intention that that office should infringe in any way on the independent responsibility of the two editors in matters of editorial opinion. I may say that this assurance has been formally confirmed to the President of the Board of Trade.


That relates to the first recommendation made by Mr. Davidson on page 44. I am seeking assurance on the second recommendation.


My Lords, I cannot reassure the noble Lord any further than I have done at the moment.


My Lords, did the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, in his evidence express any intentions with regard to those papers which now compete with The Times? One has especially in mind the Observer and the Guardian and the Observer is surely at risk since it prints with The Times.


My Lords, with regard to The Observer and The Guardian, the Commission noted the dependence of both these papers on the new company for their printing. But they concluded that this should not be made the subject of conditions to a consent for the transfer, expressing the view that it was a matter which must be left for commercial negotiation between the parties. I would say at this juncture that the Observer has, in any event, secured revised arrangements to come into effect if the transfer is effective, and the Guardian is negotiating for such arrangements.