HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc954-5

2.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to receive the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the future ownership of Manchester United Football Club plc.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on BSkyB's proposed acquisition of Manchester United was received by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 12th March.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply, but can he now say what happens next and when? Will the announcement of the Government's decision on the MMC report also be the occasion for stating their view of BSkyB's total monopoly of Premier League TV coverage, thus excluding many millions of licence payers from the action? Was not my right honourable friend the Prime Minister right to say, even before this bid, that: Football, the people's game, is being too driven by money and not enough by the sporting spirit"? Why should millions of people be excluded from seeing the best of the people's game?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought that my noble friend intended to comment on the view that football was not just a matter of life and death but more important than that. As to when the Secretary of State will respond to the MMC report, I can say only that it will be as soon as practicable. There is no statutory limit. As regards the options that are open to him, if the MMC concludes that the merger may be expected to operate against the public interest, the Secretary of State will announce what action, if any, will be taken to remedy or prevent the adverse effects specified by the MMC. If the MMC has cleared the bid, the Secretary of State has no power to act but can only publish the report. I have not seen the report and I do not know what it says. Therefore, I cannot speculate as to what the Secretary of State may say.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that a Statement was repeated in this House by my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury on 10th March in which the Government indicated that they no longer wished to second guess an adverse report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Can the Minister say whether that Statement was to be instantly effective or whether it awaited legislation? Can the Minister indicate whether the reference in the Statement on 10th March to a special exemption for defence industries may be extended in the Government's mind to such matters as take-overs affecting the media?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, at present the Secretary of State acts on the advice of the Office of Fair Trading in deciding whether to refer a proposed merger to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I do not believe that he would expect me from this Dispatch Box to anticipate any major change of policy.

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